The voter-turnout effort is part of an unusually early field operation being set up by state Republicans with funding from the RNC. | AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File
TALLAHASSEE — Have gun, will vote?
Florida Republicans working to reelect President Donald Trump will send volunteers to a gun show this weekend as part of a broader effort to sign up new voters in the battleground state.Story Continued Below
An internal “Trump Victory Team” email circulated Thursday, days after a pair of mass shootings stunned the nation, said the upcoming gun show in South Florida was “a great opportunity to make sure people are up to date on their voter registration and know more about the efforts of the Trump administration to address public safety and second amendments rights.”
Democrats quickly criticized the effort, with Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Peñalosa accusing the GOP of “promoting [National Rifle Association] propaganda” in the aftermath of shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“It’s dangerous and frankly unbelievable that after a weekend of back-to-back mass shootings that the Trump campaign and the Florida Republican Party would promote registering voters at gun shows,” Peñalosa told POLITICO in an email. “It is more evidence that they are in the pocket of the NRA and completely out of touch with the American people.”
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters defended the plan to solicit voters at the gun show.
“We are not going to let some sick deranged individual who committed those terrible acts distract us from efforts to help law abiding citizens participate in the process,” said Gruters, a state senator.
Democrats, he said, “are trying to use this as a wedge to halt any efforts we have.”
The voter-turnout effort is part of an unusually early field operation being set up by state Republicans with funding from the RNC. With the battleground state again likely to play a pivotal role in Trump‘s reelection, Republicans are calling their effort the Trump Florida firewall.
The gun show is being held at the Dodge City Center in Pembroke Pines, about 28 miles south of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed in a February 2018 shooting. The killings sparked the normally reticent Florida Legislature to raise the legal age to purchase rifles. Lawmakers also passed a “red flag” law giving law enforcement authority to seek court permission to temporarily seize a person’s guns.
Gruters was among the Republicans who voted for the legislation.
The Parkland school shooting also prompted a state campaign to ban military-style, semi-automatic rifles. Organizers are seeking to put the ban to voters on the 2020 ballot, but Florida’s Republican attorney general, Ashley Moody, has asked the Florida Supreme Court to block the proposal.
Many Republicans in the state also have voiced opposition to a ban on semi-automatic weapons.
The move to bolster Republican state voting rolls more than a year ahead of the presidential election is new. In the past two cycles, Florida Republicans haven’t mounted targeted voter registration efforts, yet they’ve managed to eke out narrow wins as a result of huge turnout in Republican-rich regions.
The GOP effort is under way as former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum and the Democratic Party mount their own voter registration drive to defeat Trump.
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