On a cold February evening, weeks before the full force of the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, a few dozen Mike Bloomberg supporters milled around the airy living room of a home in the genteel Washington, D.C., suburb of McLean, Virginia. The voters, most of them white, described themselves as moderates or former Republicans. They explained to me that, more than anything, they want stability and civility back in national politics, and they tut-tutted any mention of Bernie Sanders and his plans for radical change. But one issue—the one they’d come to hear about—got them really riled up: gun control.
“He’s laid out an assault-weapons ban for new purchases,” a man named Bill, a managing partner at a small investment firm and a former intelligence officer, told me excitedly, when I asked why he backed Bloomberg for president. (Bill declined to give his last name for privacy reasons.) “And there absolutely should be universal background checks,” he continued. “It’s like, that’s a no-brainer—come on.”
This is the new normal in the Democratic Party: Moderate voters not only support gun-control legislation, but have begun to use the issue as a litmus test. In 2010, roughly 20 percent of all federal candidates who received “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association were Democrats; by the 2018 midterms, that number was down to less than 2 percent, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 2013 and largely funded by Bloomberg. Which means that Democrats in 2020 are embracing gun control in an unprecedented way, betting that their support is more likely to attract voters than turn them away—especially in the suburban districts that are quickly becoming central to the party map.