Last month's deadly theater shootings in Aurora, Colo., are starting to play front and center in at least two hotly contested U.S. House races in the swing state.
The conservative lobbying group Compass Colorado this week announced it's beginning a slate of automated calls highlighting what the organization says is Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter's politicization of the July 20 attack that left 12 people dead and 58 injured.
Like some other left-leaning members of Congress, Perlmutter has called for stricter gun control laws in the wake of the shootings — specifically, for reinstating an assault weapons ban signed by President Clinton that expired in 2004.
Compass Colorado's Tyler Houlton says the robo calls are targeted at independent voters and some Republicans in Jefferson County, a key swing county in this swing state, where Perlmutter is in a close race against Republican challenger Joe Coors Jr. for the state's 7th District congressional seat.
But Perlmutter campaign spokeswoman Leslie Oliver says the calls are spurring on Perlmutter's supporters. "The only people politicizing these tragedies are political groups like Compass Colorado," Oliver says.
Compass Colorado, a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization, has not shied away from controversial issues — or large local ad buys — since it first formed last year. The group is probably best known for its well-placed political billboards along major thoroughfares in the Denver metro area, including some that were rolled out last week highlighting three Colorado Democrats' support for President Obama's health care law.
One of the men featured prominently on those billboards is Joe Miklosi, who has also begun to make gun control an issue in his bid to challenge sitting Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado's newly redrawn 6th Congressional District, which includes Aurora and the theater where the shootings occurred.
Miklosi, who has supported tighter gun control laws while serving in the Colorado state House, told the Aurora Sentinel he plans to take a more visible stance on the issue as he hits the campaign trail in the weeks ahead.
"My stance has been pretty clear even before the tragedy, and [the incident] only reaffirmed it," he said.
Coffman, who has been endorsed by the NRA, has been quieter so far, only calling the shootings "a senseless act of violence."
But this may soon change as both candidates hit the streets and try to court voters in the coming weeks, in a city where it's hard to find anyone who hasn't been affected in some way by the tragedy.
Kirk Siegler is a reporter for KUNC in Colorado.