Hillary wins backing of key gun control advocacy group

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Everytown for Gun Safety, a group funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg to reduce gun violence, is set to deliver its first-ever presidential endorsement to Hillary Clinton on Friday, POLITICO has learned.

It’s is the latest in a series of high-profile endorsements from individuals and organizations coming off the sidelines to back the Democratic frontrunner in the days ahead of the final group of primaries on June 7. Many of the late-breaking endorsers are citing the need for party unity against Donald Trump as the impetus for weighing in now.

“We’re doing it now because it really matters,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown, which touts 3.5 million supporters, said in an interview. “We wanted to hear from our supporters, we wanted to take their pulse to see what they’ve been learning, and it became clear to us that it was our time to act.”

Clinton has made gun safety a top issue in her primary fight against Bernie Sanders — a rare issue where she was able to campaign to his left — and has made it clear she will continue to highlight the issue in a general election. She featured Erika Smegielski, daughter of the principal slain in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, in a campaign ad in Connecticut. She has also campaigned extensively with the “mothers of the movement,” a group of now high-profile mothers of black men and women who have been killed in police custody or because of gun violence. Clinton has met multiple time with representatives of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, part of the Everytown group.

Everytown’s endorsement comes just weeks after the National Rifle Association announced its endorsement of Trump.

But Everytown is not alone in pushing its members to support Clinton as the clock ticks down to the end of the primary season and Democratic strongholds like California and New Jersey prepare to vote. In the past two weeks, Clinton has scooped up late endorsements from the United Auto Workers union; the environmental group NRDC Action Fund, which has never endorsed a candidate before; the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Leadership PAC; and even the Democratic Leader of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, a state Sanders won by a landslide. On Tuesday, Clinton picked up the nod of a former Bill Clinton rival, California Gov. Jerry Brown.

In a brushfire populist year, where the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is now shaping up to be a clash of two political cultures, the groups cited the importance of party unity in the face of Trump in their endorsements.

“It is important for Hillary to win this race, and California is a very significant state,” California Rep. Judy Chu, who is part of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Leadership PAC, said in an interview. “This is the biggest state going into the convention and we want to make sure there is a decisive win for Hillary going in.”

In its endorsement on May 25, the UAW posted on its website: “Now is a time for unity, a time to focus on what lies ahead in November.”

“This is no time for Democrats to keep fighting each other,” Brown wrote in his endorsement of Clinton. “The general election has already begun.” The NRDC Action Fund said that “Donald Trump… has recently outlined a disastrous and frankly nonsensical environmental agenda — suggesting that he would tear up the Paris Climate Agreement, and that there is no drought in California.”

But the Everytown endorsement was unique in noting that 2016 marks the first year a Democratic presidential candidate is seeking to make gun safety, once a third rail issue, a winning position against a Republican nominee backed by the NRA. “There’s no question the political calculus has changed,” Feinblatt said. “It’s not just that Hillary is a champion for gun sense, but she’s saying the gun lobby is taking this country in the wrong direction. She’s willing to stand up and say that. All the pressure has been coming from one side. Those days are over.”

Feinblatt said it was an easy choice to back Clinton over Sanders, who has voted against the Brady Bill five times in the past. “The records were clear. She’s never wavered on background checks for gun sales, or opposing unprecedented civil immunity for gun manufacturers,” he said.

On Thursday, Clinton donned an orange top while campaigning in California, standing in solidarity with the “Wear Orange” National Gun Violence Awareness Day campaign. Sanders, also campaigning in California, did not.

“The people who are endorsing now, from Democratic House leaders to Gov. Jerry Brown, are sending a powerful signal to the Democratic rank and file that it’s time to come together,” said Clinton ally Terry Shumaker, who co-chaired both of Bill Clinton’s campaigns in New Hampshire. “When the bear’s at the door, whatever family squabble is going on in the house seems minor compared to, what are we going to do about the bear.”

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