WASHINGTON - Anger over the weekend massacre of 11 people at a Pennsylvania synagogue spilt onto the U.S. campaign trail with just over a week to go before elections that will determine control of Congress.
The shooting, which prosecutors said was a hate crime carried out by a gunman who said he wanted to kill Jewish people, followed a wave of more than a dozen package bombs that were sent to prominent critics of President Donald Trump last week, and was widely seen as showing a rising level of rage and violence in U.S. politics.
While elected leaders from both parties voiced sympathy for the victims and denounced violence, the incidents did little to cool the tone of campaigns that will determine whether Trump’s Republican Party keeps control of both houses of Congress in the Nov. 6 elections.
Democrats would need a net gain of 23 seats in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate to take majorities that would allow them to more effectively oppose Trump’s agenda. Nonpartisan forecasters and opinion polls generally give them a good chance of winning the House, with Republicans widely expected to keep control of the Senate.
Following the pattern of mass shootings that have become a recurrent feature over American life over the past few years, Saturday’s massacre in Pittsburgh inflamed the nation’s long-running debate on gun rights, with Trump suggesting that armed guards could have prevented the killing.
“No, Mr. President, the synagogue is not at fault for being insufficiently armed,” Scott Wallace, a Democrat running for Congress in eastern Pennsylvania, said in a weekend statement. “To say that the solution to gun violence is more guns, is like saying that the solution to lung cancer is more cigarettes.”
U.S. Representative Keith Rothfus, a western Pennsylvania Republican, stayed away from the gun rights issue while condemning the prejudice that allegedly motivated the attack.
“You look at what this particular shooter was doing, the vile comments that he had put out there on social media, the anti-Semitic hatred that he was spewing forth,” Rothfus said in a Monday interview on Fox News. “Somebody was aware of the animus.”
Reactions to mass shootings often divide along roughly party lines. Broadly, Democrats favour more controls on gun ownership as a way of reducing gun violence, while Republicans push back against efforts to introduce tighter gun controls, noting that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms.
Liberal protesters who crashed a Tennessee rally on Sunday for Republican U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn’s Senate campaign drew her criticism for repeatedly trying to shout her down, including during a moment of silence intended to remember those killed at the synagogue.
“It is a sad day when Phil Bredesen’s party will go as far as interrupting a moment of silence for the victims of Pittsburgh in order to protest,” Blackburn said on Twitter, referring to her Democratic rival, a former governor of the state. “There is no excuse to choose confrontation, ambush, attack or any form of violence to deal with differences of opinion.”
The violence did not bring a return to civility, with Trump weighing in on Monday on the Florida governor’s race, where he has endorsed former U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis over Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
In a tweet, Trump called Gillum “a thief” and said Tallahassee is “one of the most corrupt cities in the Country.” Florida media have reported that the FBI is investigating Tallahassee’s government. Gillum has said he is not the probe’s target. FBI officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gillum said on Monday said the name-calling is leading to violence.
“That kind of irresponsible language is now leading to loss of life,” Gillum told reporters, calling it “dangerous rhetoric.”
Full Reuters election coverage: here
Reporting by Scott Malone in Washington; Additional reporting by David Morgan and Susan Heavey in Washington and Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry