Gun control groups say this is the year they finally go toe-to-toe with the National Rifle Association and match their foe's imposing campaign spending for congressional candidates.
"It's an important issue to segments of voters on both sides" of the gun issue, said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster. "You don't need to make a huge difference, you just need to make a little difference because these races are all so close."
Few doubt that organizations led by billionaire Michael Bloomberg and the wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., will unleash huge sums in the campaigns' closing weeks to back candidates favoring firearms curbs. They're off to modest starts — unlike the NRA.
Barely a month from Election Day, the nation's most powerful gun rights group has so far reported spending over $10 million for ads and other efforts either for or against more than 60 congressional candidates. The efforts include sending NRA field representatives to gun shows to tout favored candidates.
That spending — which is supposed to be done independently and not coordinated with candidates — makes the NRA the ninth highest spender of more than 300 groups tracked by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors political spending.
Virtually all NRA spending has been to help Republicans. As of Aug. 31 it reported having $18.5 million banked and was still raising money.