Pro-gun voters put heat on Democratic senators

Lawmakers put it in ironic predicament.
Associated Press
Mar 10, 2013

 

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus has been here before.

Back during the Clinton era, the Democrat faced a choice: support an assault weapons ban urged by a president from his own party and risk angering constituents who cherish their gun rights, or buck his party. He chose the ban, and nearly lost his Senate seat.

Now, as he begins his campaign for a seventh term, Baucus faces the question again. For weeks, gun foes have sought assurances he would oppose the assault weapons ban. But it was only this past week he said he would oppose it.

That decision alone doesn't settle the issue for his re-election campaign. His opponents are watching closely, eager to pounce as he navigates a series of other gun control proposals, including an expected call for universal background checks.

Baucus' predicament is one that a group of Democrats like him in the West and South are facing. They hail from predominantly rural regions of the country where the Second Amendment is cherished and where Republicans routinely win in presidential elections.

From Montana to Louisiana, these anxious voters have made at least six Democratic senators a little uneasy heading into next year's election season. Both sides are aware that gun-owners' rights are taking shape as a campaign issue that could shift the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

"Make no mistake — it is a very delicate dance for rural state Democrats," said Barrett Kaiser, a Democratic political consultant.

"I would be stunned if the Montana congressional delegation said anything but 'hell no' to gun control measures," he added.

Part of the concern comes from a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity clips. The plan is a response to calls for new gun restrictions from President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school.

Gun control is a top-agenda item for many Democrats, and they'll need all the votes they can to push changes.

Baucus knows, though, that a gun control vote "opens the door for whoever challenges him, because Montanans do not want the federal government restricting guns. That is clear as day," said Republican state Rep. Scott Reichner, who was Mitt Romney's campaign chairman in Montana.

"It would be a monumental mistake on his part" to support federal gun control legislation, Reichner said.

Gun rights carry sway in Montana. The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks says Montana "boasts more hunters per capita than any other state in the nation." State lawmakers have been discussing measures to expand gun rights. And a pro-gun group, the Montana Shooting Sports Association, has set up a website that is updated with Baucus' public statements on gun policy.

Other Democratic senators that Republicans are watching closely include Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Democrats control the Senate, but if Republicans pick off these seats they could take the chamber.

Pryor already has said he won't support an assault weapons ban, and the measure is unlikely to clear the Senate. Gun activists still worry that other restrictions they oppose are in the works.

"I don't think the assault rifle ban, the semi-auto ban, has been the real objective," said Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association. "I think that is where the rubber meets the road, federal gun registration."

The gun rights crowd considers mandatory registration as an unconstitutional overreach of federal authority and the close attention paid to all discussions on the topic show how carefully Baucus and others must tread.

Baucus would appear to be a shoo-in for re-election. He's the third most senior U.S. senator and the chairman of the Finance Committee, which lets him prioritize many Montana projects.

He's also a consummate dealmaker who routinely collects endorsements from Republican-allied groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And he's worked hard over the years to become the only Senate Democrat with an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association.

But one wrong gun vote could energize his opposition.

Though Baucus specifically rejected the assault rifle ban, he stopped short of mentioning expanded background checks by name. Baucus indicated he prefers the focus was elsewhere.

"Instead of focusing on new laws, Max believes the first step should be effectively enforcing the laws already on the books," Baucus spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue said Thursday.

The entire debate represents a potential replay of the most difficult fight of his career, when Baucus voted for the 1993 Brady Bill that established background checks and the original 1994 ban on assault rifles and high-capacity clips.

Those votes led to the closest election in four decades of politics for Baucus, a narrow victory in a bitter campaign against Republican Denny Rehberg.

The other Democratic senators in rural states could find themselves in similar fights and have been cagey over the issue. Most have taken a wait-and-see approach.

The NRA last month launched an advertising campaign aimed squarely at this group, sending a strong message. The organization did not return a call seeking comment.

Democratic political operatives say the NRA could be overplaying its hand this time, arguing some sportsmen may be willing to listen to moderate proposals.

Still, Baucus and his colleagues aren't likely to take risks and by next year's election, he and others could seek to turn the issue to their advantage by using a pro-gun stance to appeal to conservative and libertarian-minded voters.

"Why wouldn't he want to talk about guns?" said Montana State University political scientist David Parker. "Sen. Baucus is as about as middle of the road as they get in the United States Senate. What he doesn't want to do is have himself painted as a national Democrat or as an Obama Democrat."

 

Comments

sorryhog

They have enough gun laws. California politicians can't even run their communist state,who are they to tell us what to do?(Feinstein,Pelosi)

Licorice Schtick

Among the 50 states, Ohio ranks 32n in GDP per capita. California ranks 11th. Yeah, THEY'RE screw up.

Fromthe419

That is exactly why Harry Reid will not allow a vote on any gun law before the '14 elections. He does not want any of his democrats on record with an anti-gun stance. Heck, Reid would be voted out himself if he voted tougher gun laws, Clarke County is very pro gun. IMHO, enforce the laws we have and I can't believe I'm gonna say this, SPEND more on mental health. We've neglected mental health issues going back to the 1980's and it needs to be addressed.

Pterocarya frax...

And yet Republicans continually try to block any laws that would prevent mentally ill from owning guns.

SamAdams

Fromthe419 is right. Bad guys routinely ignore the law. Last time I checked, murder was illegal. So is armed robbery or even threatening someone with a weapon of any kind. And yet it happens with disturbing regularity. Only a complete idiot would think that "just one more 'common sense' law" would have some effect!

Actually, that's not true. Such laws WOULD have ONE effect: They'd ensure that those people who DO obey the law wouldn't be able to defend themselves against those who could care less if they break one more law in the course of breaking several.

Guns don't kill people any more than knives or poison or fists. What DOES kill people are other people, some of whom have the mental health issues so much in the news of late. While that opens up another whole can of worms (who's a risk, and who's just having issues — after all, the vast majority of people who have been diagnosed with mental health problems ALSO don't kill anybody), at least it's a start at addressing the REAL problem!

Meanwhile, any politician, whether Democrat or Republican, should consider his or her oath to the Constitution before voting yea or nay on ANY law. Unfortunately, I can count on the fingers of one hand those who can be bothered to do so.

kURTje

Those firesticks are nothing compared to drones or H.A.R.P.

coasterfan

Meh. The biggest drone in America is Rand Paul. He droned on and on and on....

Randy_Marsh

It does not suprise me you are against civil rights.

4shizzle

ooooooo, drones!

Randy_Marsh

148 years later the democrats are still trying to kill the 14th amendment.

There you go again

It is all about politics and nothing about the safety of people. I am not a gun but I am glad USA has the freedom and right to purchase and carry guns. This article accuratety shows that politicians care only about making themselves look good-Got that Mr. Obama?!?!

The Big Dog's back

Big Dog's Law has been invoked.

Pete

Going to go mooching again huh.

AJ Oliver

More right-wing drivel from the AP. As a Vietnam vet, I'm not afraid of them, or the NRA. It really frosts me that foreign companies like Glock spend big bucks on OUR elections so they can peddle weapons that could in NO WAY be sold back in Austria. And in general, I'll declare once more that guns are for cowards - except those used for hunting or varmints.

Randy_Marsh

And the difference between a varmint rifle and a "Assault" rifle is what exactly?

coasterfan

Current polling shows that about 90% of Americans favor universal background checks for gun purchases. Even a majority of NRA members favor it. How interesting that the remaining 10% are so well represented in this local discussion. What shows up loud and clear with the 10% is their paranoia; they consider almost everyone else to be the enemy and a threat, completely missing the fact that They are far more militant and more armed than most of the people they fear. If anything, we should fear THEM.

How odd to know that they (gun owners) live in fear to a much greater degree than I (a non-gun owner) do.

Randy_Marsh

OMG, It is the one who knows the difference between a Good gun and a big bad scary gun! Please do go on, It is facinating your knowledge about weapons and the people that own them.(Of course you FEAR people with guns you are paranoid, Get help)

Don S

I wounder if the 20 kids that were killed, at Sandy Hook, were paranoid right before they were shot dead ????

beepx22

They would have probably appreciated an armed and trained teacher, because then they probably wouldn't be 20 of them dead...

Don S

Re-election is all that matters to most all the politians in DC, not the people that sent them there. I'm so sick of this mind-set !!!!! We need term limits for all members in congress. That is the only way to stop the log jam of indifferance of elected officials.