Democrats have long been uncomfortable around the gun-rights crowd, often resorting to awkward photo-ops to prove their credibility when it comes to guns.
In 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), while running for president, infamously dressed in camouflage for a goose hunt in Ohio, only to decline to carry a carcass because of concern that he’d offend animal rights groups. And then there was President Barack Obama, who was forced to release a photo of himself skeet shooting at Camp David because no one believed that he’d fired a gun.
So it was remarkable in 2016, as the Democratic Party finally began openly advocating for stricter gun control measures, that one of its own candidates released the most compelling gun-related ad of the cycle.
Jason Kander’s Senate campaign in Missouri gained national attention after it began running that ad. In it, Kander, an Afghanistan War veteran, put on a blindfold and assembled an AR-15 before challenging his opponent, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), to do the same. The now-famous spot wasn’t created by a focus group or consultant.
“I just sort of said offhand to my campaign manager and media guy, ‘Well, I’m sure I can put a rifle together a lot faster than the other guy,’” Kander recalls. “And then at some point somebody said, ‘Well can you do it blindfolded?’ And I said, ‘I’ve done it in the dark a lot. It’s mostly muscle memory.’ And it kind of went from there.”
Kander got it on the first take ― though he tried a few more.
In the latest episode of the “Candidate Confessional” podcast, Kander says he never considered the spot to be inherently pro-gun. In fact, while showcasing his familiarity with firearms, he explicitly made the case for gun safety measures. He felt that he could use the ad to culturally connect with voters ― to showcase an authenticity on the issue ― in a way other candidates couldn’t.
“To me, that ad was, ‘Yeah, I’m for background checks and I know what the hell I’m talking about.’ That’s what that ad is to me,” Kander says.
But even though the ad was an immense hit, Kander worried about how it would be received outside his state. There were donors and advocacy groups that would potentially interpret it as glorifying gun culture, he imagined. To his relief, even gun control advocates understood Kander’s intent behind the display of firepower.
Listen to the full episode above.
“Candidate Confessional” is produced by Zach Young. To listen to this podcast later, download it on Apple Podcasts. While you’re there, please rate and review our show. To subscribe, visit the following: Apple Podcasts / Acast / RadioPublic / Google Play / Stitcher / RSS
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Kander served in Iraq. He served in Afghanistan.