Gun rights group targets House speaker with mailer about rape
richmond— Just ahead of Tuesday’s Republican primary, a gun rights group has bankrolled a startling political mailer that portrays the speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates as being friendly to rapists.
Next to a photo that shows a woman cowering before a knifewielding assailant, the mailer of the National Association for Gun Rights reads, “When seconds count, Bill Howell wants to leave you defenseless!” On the reverse side, it reads, “Speaker Bill Howell thinks you should be left vulnerable to armed thugs and rapists!”
A campaign spokesman for Howell (R-Stafford) condemned the mailing, which aims to make the case that Howell favors guncontrol measures that would leave crime victims defenseless.
“I think it’s pretty low by even today’s political standards,” Howell spokesman Matthew Moran said. “He is endorsed by the [National Rifle Association], 100 percent supporter of the Sec- ond Amendment. If someone wants to have a conversation on the issues, that’s perfectly acceptable. But this crosses the line.”
Attempts to reach the NAGR, which also posted the image on its Facebook page, were unsuccessful Saturday.
The group has targeted a handful of other Virginia Republicans this year, though at least some of the other mailings have been less graphic than one aimed at the speaker. Like Howell, the other candidates have been endorsed by the NRA. The Virginia Shoot- ing Sports Association and the conservative blog Bearing Drift have chalked up the NAGR’s efforts to a fundraising rivalry between it and the NRA.
Moran said that the group has sponsored three anti-Howell mailings in the lead-up to the primary, in which the speaker faces former Stafford County supervisor Susan Stimpson.
Tim Edson, a Stimpson adviser, said that the campaign had nothing to do with the mailer. But he also defended the “edgy” approach as a way to grab attention in a race that has Stimpson at a 7-to-1 fundraising disadvantage.
“Our campaign in no way coordinated with that group,” Edson said. “I’d say the words and the images used are not how we would have presented the issue, but there’s an ugly truth about Howell’s record on guns.”
Throughout the campaign, Stimpson has accused Howell of projecting a more conservative image on spending and other issues than his record in Richmond supports. Edson said that the speaker has often used his power to quietly kill gun rights bills.
“He says, ‘Oh, I’m pro-gun.’ Meanwhile, he says, ‘Don’t look at these gun bills I’ve sent to this committee to die,’ ” Edson said.
As for the NRA’s endorsement, Edson attributed that to the group’s reluctance to cross the speaker.
Moran declined to comment on Edson’s remarks.
“We’ve run a positive campaign all along,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to finish.”