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Advocacy group finds support for John Delaney, gun control in Maryland's 6th District

Incumbent Rep. John Delaney holds a double-digit lead over his Republican challenger in Maryland's 6th Congressional District, according to a poll released Monday that was paid for by the state's leading gun control advocacy group.

At a time when Washington is debating whether to offer a legislative response to the June 12 shooting at an Orlando night club, the poll found a federal licensing proposal touted by the group that funded the survey is popular, including in Western Maryland, a Republican stronghold.

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The poll, paid for by Marylanders To Prevent Gun Violence, was conducted from June 11-14 -- meaning voters were questioned about guns as the Orlando shooting was dominating headlines in Maryland and around the country.

Delaney led Republican nominee Amie Hoeber by 27 percentage points in the poll -- a surprisingly large margin given how close the district was in the 2014 election. That year Republican Dan Bongino -- who ardently opposed gun control -- came within 3,000 votes of toppling Delaney.

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The poll shows Delaney leading Hoeber 44 percent to 17 percent.

The poll finds Delaney's support grows when respondents learn he backs a federal handgun licensing bill that has already been approved in Maryland (the incumbent signed on as a co-sponsor of the federal bill before the poll became public). Hoeber takes the lead in the race if she supports the measure, according to the poll.

A spokesman for Hoeber described the findings as "one of the worst polls I've seen in a long time" and said "it's clear this group has let their agenda get in the way of the facts.

"It's actions like this to keep us from having serious conversations in this country," said Hoeber spokesman Bruce Harvie. "We need leaders that are focused on protecting Maryland families instead of phony political posturing like this poll."

Polls conducted by advocacy groups should always be read with an added measure of skepticism -- they rarely find that the public opposes the group's worldview. But in this case the survey offers some interesting context beyond the results.

For starters, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence is ostensibly neutral in the Delaney-Hoeber race, though the group is backing a measure widely supported by Democrats and generally opposed by Republicans.

Perhaps more important is the extent to which the group is signaling it will make an issue of gun control in Maryland's congressional races. That could have an impact not only in the 6th District but in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

The group is pressuring lawmakers running for Congress in the state to support legislation that would set up a grant program to encourage states to create licensing programs for handgun purchases.

Marylanders are already faced with that requirement after the General Assembly approved licensing in 2013, months after the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Sixty-three percent of registered voters in the district favor the proposal, according to the poll.

"When it's put to voters what the differences are in the candidates' positions on licensing, they will more likely vote for the candidate who supports gun violence prevention," said Vincent DeMarco, board chair of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. "It is clear from the data and the polling that handgun purchaser licensing is good policy and good politics."

A spokesman for Delaney noted the poll's results are similar to a survey conducted by the incumbent's campaign this month. A poll in May paid for by a super PAC supporting Hoeber, on the other hand, found the race within the margin of error.

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