Anti-Gun Groups Deny Targeting Democratic Senators

The gun issue is not prompting talk of liberal primaries for Democrats.

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As gun control advocates attempt to regroup and apply pressure on senators who opposed a recent bill that would have expanded background checks on private gun sales, a spate of news reports claimed they were most heavily targeting the four Democrats who cast no votes.

But groups such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns deny they are pushing harder on Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. All hail from states that skew more conservative and only Pryor and Begich are up for re-election in 2014; Baucus recently announced retirement plans and Heitkamp was just elected in 2012.

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Erika Soto Lamb, communications director for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, says it's fair to say they are lobbying all those who opposed the background check measure equally, whether they are a Democrat or a Republican.

"I wouldn't be specific about what states we'll put ads up in next," she says. "[We're] only up in New Hampshire for now, but looking at others where senators sided with the Washington gun lobby and voted against the overwhelming support of their constituents for background checks."

New Hampshire is home to Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the only Republican in the state's delegation, who cast a vote against the expanded background check measure.

 

President Barack Obama's campaign arm turned grassroots lobbying organization, Organizing for Action, is working from existing strongholds of volunteers, not necessarily targeting the Democrats on gun control.

"When it comes to influencing senators to listen to 90 percent of Americans in supporting background checks, we have a great opportunity in states with a high level of activity from OFA volunteers that are outraged or thankful at how their senator voted," says Katie Hogan, a spokeswoman for OFA. "In states like Georgia, Arizona and New Hampshire you are already seeing the effect that voting against the will of their constituents is having on those senators just as approval ratings for senators who listened to their constituents is growing in places like Pennsylvania and Louisiana."

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Recent surveys conducted by the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling claim to show approval drops for senators from more liberal states who opposed the failed background check bill. Conversely, the polling firm claims there have been higher approval marks for senators who supported the legislation in more conservative states.

"New PPP polls in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada and Ohio find serious backlash against the five senators who voted against background checks in those states," said Tom Jensen, PPP's polling director in a memo last Monday. "Each of them has seen their approval numbers decline, and voters say they're less likely to support them the next time they're up for re-election. That's no surprise given that we continue to find overwhelming, bipartisan support for background checks in these states."

After another round of polling in North Carolina and Louisiana, states Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won in 2012, Jensen said support for Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., both of whom voted for the background checks, had increased.

"PPP's newest round of polling finds that Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu helped their cause for re-election with their recent votes in support of background checks for gun sales," Jensen said last Thursday. "More than 70 percent of voters in each of their states support such checks and their constituents say they're more likely to vote for them next year because of their votes."

[POLL: Americans Incorrectly Believe Gun Crime on Rise]

One thing is clear – the Democrats who voted against the gun measure are not sparking enough liberal outrage to inspire primary challenges.

"I haven't heard of anyone thinking about challenging Senator Begich in a primary," says Zack Fields, communications director of the Alaska Democratic Party. "This past weekend the Alaska Democratic Party had a State Central Committee meeting in Fairbanks and party members passed a motion unanimously to endorse Senator Begich, so we're working hard to re-elect him in 2014."