Until the 12/14 Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school slaughter, even in the bluest districts, most Democrats had spent years—since the mid-'90s really—shying away from anything even hinting that they might favor new gun-control laws. The issue was seen as a loser and most candidates, incumbents and challengers alike, were resigned to the NRA's dominance. Across the netroots, too, the issue of gun control went all but unmentioned in the 2012 campaign.
Kelly, however, as we've been documenting since she began her campaign to replace Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., has taken the NRA head-on, pointing out her Democratic opponents' "A" rating from the gun industry's mouthpiece while touting the "F" it has given her. Those running against her have even complained she's made the contest a one-issue race. At NBC, Mark Murray writes:
In past Democratic primaries, an NRA endorsement was either a badge of honor or something that at least wasn’t viewed as a major liability. That may not be true anymore, at least in congressional districts like this one in Illinois.Because it is a special primary election with lots of names on the ballot and expectations of the usual extremely low turnout such elections garner, she doesn't have the race yet in the bag, but Kelly's prospects look very good. If she does win, that could be a green light for other Democrats to follow the same path. There have been, after all, poll after poll since the Newtown massacre showing that Americans support more restrictions on who can buy guns and what kinds. Polls also show a drop in favorability for the NRA.
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The latest Pew poll, for instance, found 83 percent favoring "background checks for private & gun show sales," 56 percent for banning "assault-style weapons," and 53 percent for banning high-capacity "ammunition clips." That is pretty much what polls around the nation have shown.
However, Murray wonders how the Kelly phenomenon will play "out of urban areas":
That could be the biggest question moving forward after Tuesday’s race. While the NRA is unpopular with Democrats and while [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg’s group have displayed their muscle, does that also hold true in places like West Virginia (where Democrats will be competing to replace retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller) or even in Iowa (which has open Senate and House seats in 2014)? “West Virginia and Illinois will always be different,” Glaze says, noting that states like West Virginia have “more hunting, more guns, and less crime.” He adds, “That creates a different political dynamic.” Indeed, the NRA is running newspaper ads in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina—where Democratic senators are running for re-election next year—opposing the Obama administration’s gun-control proposals.Take North Carolina's first-term Sen. Kay Hagan, for example. She has an "F" rating from the NRA. But since being elected in 2008, she has had to vote only on a single gun-related bill—to allow firearms in checked luggage on Amtrak trains. She is being quite cautious, saying in a December statement:
"We need a common-sense debate on a comprehensive approach that looks at access to guns, including laws that may have already been on the books, access to mental health care, and violent video games. In the coming months I will review any proposals with an open mind, ensuring that they will improve the safety of our communities without restricting the rights of responsible gun owners as guaranteed by the second amendment.”Nothing in Hagan's remarks about the NRA. Just a straddle not unlike that heard from other Democrats after Newtown. North Carolinians themselves straddle the issue. They still have a favorable view of the gun lobby, according to the latest Public Policy Polling survey, 45 percent viewing the organization favorably, 42 percent unfavorably, with 14 percent unsure. On stricter gun laws in general, 54 percent to 40 percent; on an assault-weapons ban, 51 percent to 41 percent.
That would seem to give Hagan some space to vote in the coming months for more controls on guns without hurting her chances for reelection. Renee Schoof reported in January:
Thomas Mills, a Democratic political consultant in the state, said strict gun control would “fall flat” in North Carolina. A 2011 survey showed nearly half the people in the state – 42 percent – own firearms at home, and Hagan, he said, has a strong record as a Second Amendment supporter.By the time the 2014 election comes around, several gun measures will most certainly have been approved or rejected by the U.S. Senate even if they haven't been voted on in the House. How Hagan fills what now is pretty much a blank slate on guns with her votes on those measures may or may not make a significant difference in how she does at the polls.
“I think she’s probably going to neutralize the issue,” Mills said. “There will be people who try to make it an issue, though.”
Hagan also likely would have the political freedom to vote against some of the more restrictive proposals, such as an assault weapons ban, because it doesn’t appear likely to pass, so her opposition couldn’t be tied to its defeat.
After all, the NRA spent $18 million in 2012 and its favored candidates lost in 95 percent of their contests. Still it seems unlikely that Hagan will tout her own "F" from the NRA the way Kelly has repeatedly done even though she won in 2008 despite her failing grade from the organization.