Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and her husband, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, are coming to Maine next month to raise money for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign against incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler.

“Gabby Giffords and I worked very closely together as members of the Blue Dog Coalition in Congress and I’m grateful for her support and friendship throughout the years. She shares my commitment to working across the aisle to find common sense solutions to the problems we face,” Michaud, a Democrat, said in a written statement.

Besides raising funds, the event, billed as a garden party in Kennebunkport, may also raise eyebrows, because Giffords and Kelly, who are now advocates for tougher gun laws, have clashed recently with gun-rights groups such as the National Rifle Association, an organization that gives Michaud high marks for his positions and has donated thousands of dollars to his campaigns over the years.

Giffords was thrust into the national spotlight in 2011 when she was wounded in a shooting near Tucson. Giffords suffered severe head trauma, from which she is still recovering, when she was shot outside a shopping mall by a man with a history of mental illness. Thirteen others were wounded and six people were killed.

Since the shooting, Giffords has been advocating against gun violence. She and her husband started the Americans for Responsible Solutions political action committee to help elect candidates supportive of legislation to prevent gun violence. The PAC advocates for a balance between gun ownership and robust background checks and measures that prevent gun trafficking.

This year, the PAC, which had $7.4 million in cash on hand as of March, plans to be active in 11 races for the U.S. House and Senate. The group has already endorsed U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who in 2013 supported expanding background checks to include person-to-person sales at gun shows and through advertising services, such as the Augusta-based Uncle Henry’s.

MICHAUD’S PRO-GUN RECORD

Unlike Giffords, who in 2010 received a “C” grade from the NRA, Michaud has been decidedly pro-gun throughout his career, a stance that has played well in the more rural, conservative 2nd District, but could turn off more progressive-minded voters in the 1st District.

Until recently, he has been noncommittal about universal background checks opposed by LePage and supported by Cutler.

A poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram found that 58 percent of survey respondents in the 2nd District owned a gun, compared to 49 percent in the 1st District. Statewide, 69 percent of gun owners surveyed said they voted for LePage in 2010, while 51 percent said they voted for Cutler.

LePage continues to hold an advantage among gun owners, according to the survey, which showed that 45 percent of respondents were leaning toward LePage, compared to 35 percent for Michaud.

By and large, Mainers have proven to be responsible gun owners. According to the 2013 State Scoreboard by the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, even though Maine received an F for its gun laws, it had the 10th lowest death rates from guns.

Politicians were reminded exactly how much Mainers love their guns in 2013, when the Bangor Daily News filed a Freedom of Access Act request for information about Mainers who have concealed weapons permits. Gun advocates flooded the newspaper with angry phone calls and letters. Some went so far as to return their roadside newspaper boxes in protest.

Even LePage weighed in on the fray, submitting a law to temporarily block access to the records. LePage, who has an “A” rating with the NRA, tweeted a photo of himself holding up his concealed weapon permit, saying, “If newspapers want to know who has concealed weapons permits, they should know I do.”

Amid the outcry, the Bangor newspaper rescinded its request and said it would destroy the records it had already obtained.

SUPPORTS BACKGROUND CHECKS

Michaud, meanwhile, continues to have a strong ranking when it comes to gun owners’ rights, and low scores by anti-gun-violence groups. By contrast, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents the 1st District, has an “F” rating from the NRA.

In 2012, Michaud sided with the NRA 83 percent of the time and received the group’s endorsement, according to Project Vote Smart.

That’s down slightly from the 93 percent rating he received in 2004, 2006 and 2008, and the A++ rating he received from the group in 1998. The NRA has also contributed at least $18,000 to Michaud’s 2003-2012 congressional campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Meanwhile, the Coalition to End Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence gave Michaud a zero percent rating in 2003, and the Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence gave him a 20 percent ranking in 2001.

After 20 children were killed in an elementary school shooting in 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut, Michaud urged the nation to better enforce existing gun laws and address underlying causes of gun violence, such as mental illness, rather than enacting new restrictions.

In early 2013, Michaud was noncommittal when asked about contentious and sweeping gun-control proposals by President Obama – proposals that were actively opposed by the NRA. Maine Sens. Collins, a Republican, and independent Angus King voted in support of the subsequent bill, which included near-universal background checks, but it fell six votes short of the 60 votes needed to beat a filibuster. The House never had to vote on it.

Michaud’s campaign website does not speak to his position on gun issues. When asked about Michaud’s position on guns, spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt forwarded an op-ed Michaud submitted to the New Maine Times, which had run an editorial questioning his stance, when Giffords and Kelly were visiting Portland as part of their Rights and Responsibilities Tour.

The stop was meant to thank King and Collins for their support.

In his response to the New Maine Times, published nearly two weeks after the Giffords-Kelly visit, Michaud declares his support for background checks.

“Improving background checks is a common-sense and pragmatic way to improve gun safety laws and make it harder for the wrong people to get guns,” Michaud wrote.

Michaud expanded upon his position in an email to the Press Herald.

LEPAGE VETO

“I have publicly supported the bi-partisan Background Check bill that fell just short in the United States Senate. It was common sense legislation and essentially, I would support an expansion of background checks to all sales over the Internet and at gun shows while maintaining an exemption for transfers between family members,” Michaud said.

“As Governor, I would work with interested parties on both sides of this issue to strike the right balance between the Second Amendment and keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and people with mental illness.”

Last year, LePage vetoed a bill that would have established penalties for unauthorized gun sales and required background checks for gun sales, include private sales between family members.

“This bill focuses on those who would choose to obey the law and for that reason I believe it misses the target,” LePage said in his veto message.

Cutler, meanwhile, “actively and strongly” supports universal background checks on the sale and transfer of firearms, according to his website. When Giffords and Kelly visited Portland last July, Cutler contrasted his position from those of Michaud and LePage.

“When it comes to background checks, Mike Michaud and Paul LePage are right in step with the leadership of the NRA, but totally out of touch with Maine people on this important issue,” Cutler said in a written statement. “Maine has a long tradition of responsible gun ownership. … Background checks do not infringe on any law-abiding gun owner’s rights, and they also provide an extra measure (of) security for gun sellers.”