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Exclusive: Giffords' gun safety group targets vulnerable GOPers as 'bought' by NRA

The new round of digital ads will play in the most competitive races in the country, and all are likely to be influenced heavily by suburban swing voters.
Image: Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz speaks during her 2016 Vocal Majority Tour
Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., on her 2016 Vocal Majority Tour on Oct. 17, 2016, in New York. Her husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, is next to her.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — As President Donald Trump addresses the National Rifle Association this week, a leading gun-safety group is looking to make an example out of suburban Republicans.

Giffords, the organization co-founded by shooting victim and former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., will announce Thursday that it is adding five GOP lawmakers to its list of midterm targets and launching digital ads in 10 competitive House and Senate races, NBC News has learned exclusively.

While the overall buy is small — $105,000 to start — the ads are a "first step" in an effort to show that gun-safety advocates can punish NRA-aligned lawmakers at the polls, according to Giffords political director, Isabelle James. For that reason, the group isn't running ads in open seats — only in places where a sitting member of Congress could be ousted and become a cautionary tale for former colleagues.

"It’s important to us that there is an incumbent in the seat," James said.

The ads show how much money each Republican lawmaker has taken from the NRA and accuses each of being "bought and paid for" by the nation's leading gun-rights group.

"How does he vote?" the narrator in an ad aimed at Rep. John Faso of New York will ask. "You guessed it — just like the NRA tells him."

Officials at Giffords say the theme ties the gun issue to voters' increasing frustration with the influence of lobbying on policy making.

In addition to Faso, the ads target one Republican senator, Dean Heller of Nevada, and nine Republicans in the House: Mimi Walters and Steve Knight of California; Jason Lewis of Minnesota; Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington; Don Bacon of Nebraska; Mike Coffman of Colorado; Vern Buchanan of Florida; Pete Sessions of Texas; and Barbara Comstock of Virginia.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was originally on Giffords' list but was removed because he announced that he will retire at the end of the year.

The Nevada Senate race and all of the House races are among the most competitive in the country, and all figure to be influenced heavily by suburban swing voters. According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, the NRA's popularity with key groups took a hit after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in February, including among white married women, seniors and more moderate Republicans.

"We are putting gun-lobby-backed politicians on notice that they can’t hide from their record any longer," the executive director of Giffords, Peter Ambler, said.