Guns May Give Democrats a Shot at 2014

Gun debate could become central campaign theme in suburban districts around the country.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., speaks after maintaining his seat in the U.S. House during a Republican Party election night gathering in the club level of Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., represents Aurora, a Denver suburb and the site of the theater shooting that left 12 dead last summer. His seat is considered a toss-up by analysts who say it's a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats.

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The series of gun votes expected to hit the Senate floor this week are precarious for vulnerable Democrats in the Senate who are facing re-election in conservative-leaning states in 2014. But if a background check bill can survive a harrowing Senate contest, the gun turmoil will be put in front of the Republican House and that is where Democrats see the political tide turning in their favor.

That's because the centerpiece of the gun legislation on the Senate floor is a background check bill, not an attempt to ban assault weapons or regulate high-capacity magazines. That means GOP election-season ads painting Democrats as gun snatchers will be tougher to craft. And Democrats believe Republicans will have a hard time explaining why they voted against legislation that secures more money for school safety and closes the so-called gun show loophole.

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"A majority of women in this country want to save their children and want to make their communities safe. Women are going to be reminded in the next election and in the election after [They will ask congressmen] 'where were you when we were trying to protect our children?," says Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-Ny. "That is powerful."

Public support for background checks regularly polls above 80 percent. And for women, that number reaches beyond 90 percent.

In Republican-held suburban districts in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Colorado, lawmakers face a political quagmire.

Voting against background checks could put Republicans at risk in a general election. But, because the National Rifle Association has come out against the background check bill, voting for it could put GOP members in the cross hairs of a primary challenge.

[READ: States Introduced More Than 1,000 Gun Bills Last Year]

Of course, that all assumes that Republican leaders in the House bring the bill to the floor at all.

If they don't, Democratic strategists say GOP leaders would enrage constituents in swing districts who support expanding background checks.

"A Republican in a suburban district is going to find it impossible to explain to voters why they blocked a bipartisan safety bill. It is going to be even harder to explain if their leadership doesn't even bring it up," says a spokesman from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Voters already frustrated by the dysfunction of this Republican Congress are going to be incensed if they find out Republicans were not even willing to bring bipartisan gun violence prevention up for a vote."

Republican lawmakers, already aware of the political headwinds, have come out on both sides of the line.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., represents Aurora, a Denver suburb and the site of the theater shooting that left 12 dead last summer, knows about the political volatility of gun control. Coffman's seat is considered a toss-up by analysts who say it's a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats.

[PHOTOS: Guns in America]

Coffman and his "A" NRA rating are already on unsteady ground. The politics of gun-control are changing fast in Colorado, a state with a long history of hunting and recreational shooting. The state's governor surprised critics last month when he signed a ban on high-capacity magazines that contain more than 15 rounds.

When asked about whether the congressman supports expanding background checks, his office says that Coffman is still looking into the issue.

Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., is another lawmaker who has wrestled with where to stand on gun legislation.

Fitzpatrick came out in support of the Toomey, Manchin background check compromise bill drafted in the Senate last week, but his campaign has launched a survey to measure whether the congressman's views are in step with his constituents who are split between rural and suburban areas.

"This is a commonsense proposal that can make a real difference. As proposed, it deserves the support of the House," Fitzpatrick said in a statement. "I will work with a bipartisan group in the House to introduce a similar proposal this week."