flickr / JRockefellerIVSen. Mark PryorGun control advocates have come out swinging against the four Senate Democrats who voted last week against a measure that would have expanded background checks on gun purchases.
They are looking to hold the Democrats accountable for what they see as a betrayal on a key wedge issue for progressives. And the only way that many in this camp think it will change is if there are real electoral consequences.
To that end, Progressive Change Campaign Committee has launched a six-figure ad buy against each of the four Democrats who voted against background checks — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Max Baucus of Montana.
“When you vote against an overwhelming majority of your constituents, that won’t be met with silence,” Adam Green, the PCCC’s co-founder, told Business Insider in an interview last week. “That will be met with accountability.”
But Green wouldn’t go as far to threaten a primary challenge against any of the Senators who voted no on background checks. And when Baucus announced this week that he would retire and not seek re-election next year, the PCCC launched a high-profile campaign in support of former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, despite the fact that Schweitzer is very pro-gun Democrat who recently told National Journal that he has “more [guns] than I need and less than I want.”
“We are confident that when he sees polls showing that 79 per cent of Montanans support common-sense background checks, he would do the right thing,” Green told Business Insider.
And Mayors Against Illegal Guns — the gun control Michael Bloomberg-backed group — announced this week that the group will also launch an extended ad buy targeting Pryor, who is up for re-election in 2014.
With Pryor, the group’s thinking is two-fold: According to internal polling, it has found that 84 per cent of Arkansans believe background checks should be expanded. And if the group highlights the fact that Pryor voted against those constituents, it believes that could turn into a problem for him.
“It’s a combination of his vote and when he’s up,” said Erika Lamb Soto, MAIG spokesperson. “We’re reminding voters of who was with them and who wasn’t. He’s one of the folks who did not vote with his constituents.”
But so far, there’s little way to tell if the Democrats will actually suffer political consequences over the background check vote.
For one, gun-control groups are relative newcomers to the political fray. Pro-gun rights groups like the NRA, for example, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more than gun-control groups in the first quarter of 2013, according to the Hill.
Ultimately, what might foil any attempt at retribution could be the concern within the party that fighting a Democrat over gun issues could put the party in worse shape — with a worse candidate — in the general election.
A recent Gallup poll found that just 4 per cent of voters nationwide consider new gun legislation a top priority, compared with 24 per cent who think the economy should be the focus. And as one Democratic Senate aide put it, it’s hard to run general elections in Montana, Arkansas, Alaska, and North Dakota on a gun control platform.
“The national party is trying to elect Democrats,” the aide said. “And the ultimate irony in that is that they frequently vote against the wishes of their own party.”
“They just spent a ton of money electing Heidi Heitkamp — and then she went out and voted with Republicans.”
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