The fight for expanded gun control measures continues to heat up on Capitol Hill, but the legislative outcome will have effects on far more than gun owners and manufacturers.
Democrats running in red states, in particular, will have to walk a fine line on gun control. But it’s in primaries where candidates’ positions could really hurt them in 2014.
New Jersey isn't a state in which the gun control push will be controversial among voters — a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed nearly 60 percent want the state to have stricter gun control laws — but the only announced candidate for Sen. Frank Lautenberg's (D-N.J.) seat, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, could face attacks from primary opponents on his record on guns.
Booker questioned the efficacy of an assault weapons ban backed by most liberal Democrats, and suggested that the major problem with gun control had more to do with illegal weapons sales than control of legal guns. As the Newark Star-Ledger reported, he was absent from a number of recent events on gun control.
That last story sparked an angry response via Twitter from Booker, who called the story “one of the worst mischaracterizations of my views.”
But Booker’s quick, forceful response indicates he wants to tamp down any indication that there’s daylight between his positions and those of the greater Democratic Party on gun control early on.
In what will likely be a fierce Democratic primary for the seat — Lautenberg hasn’t yet decided to retire, and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) is expected to jump in, among others — Booker’s stance on gun control could give him a headache from opponents hoping to frame him as not liberal enough for the Democratic nomination.
At least one candidate in the wide range of contenders vying for former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D) seat — Debbie Halvorson — has already come under fire for her position on gun control, and opponents are working to make it an issue in the upcoming Democratic primary.
Halvorson was the subject of a commercial, the only television ad in the race so far, from Michael Bloomberg-backed pro-gun-control PAC Independence USA.
The commercial attacked her for her previous support from the NRA, including an endorsement and an “A” rating from the gun lobby group.
Halvorson, a former House member, has high name recognition in the district and holds a slight lead over her contenders in a recent poll.
Though the district is reliably Democratic, opponents have begun to see the gun issue as a way to drive up her negatives in advance of the late-February primary.
Former state Rep. Robin Kelly, for instance, sought to bolster support among Democratic primary voters by touting her own “F” rating from the NRA in a recent release announcing an endorsement.
"While some of my opponents have A ratings with the NRA, I couldn’t be more proud of my F rating and it’s that record that I will take to Congress to fight for the families across Chicago and the Southland,” Kelly wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is a friend of the NRA. He received an “A” endorsement from the group and has appeared at NRA events. McConnell touted his efforts to block President Obama’s expanded gun control measures in a recent fundraising email, and at one point even worked to kill an amendment proposed by his fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R ) that the NRA opposed.
But if expanded gun control measures do make it through Congress, any potential primary challenger would attempt to tie those regulations around McConnell’s neck, arguing that he hasn’t done enough to block them.
And there’s evidence that a Democratic opponent could use McConnell’s opposition against him: A recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll indicated a full two-thirds of Kentuckians surveyed support expanded background checks on gun buyers, and a majority supported both gun registration and laws limiting access to guns.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) infamously shot his rifle at a copy of a cap-and-trade bill that was being pushed by Democrats — but was reviled by West Virginians — in a campaign ad. The ad doubled as a show of solidarity with his pro-gun constituents. Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D-W.Va.) pro-gun-control stance was considered one of the bigger of the many hurdles would have faced in his reelection bid, before he decided to retire.
But with anti-gun-control Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) the current frontrunner for the GOP nomination for the seat, gun control could become an issue in the upcoming Democratic primary, and in the general election.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who has indicated he’s open to a Senate run, is backed by the NRA and opposes an assault weapons ban, though he has expressed support for expanded background checks. West Virginia secretary of State Natalie Tennant also has a strong rating on gun control.
But former Sen. Carte Goodwin, a leading Democratic contender, has not yet gone on the record on gun control. Any vote Rahall takes on expanded gun control measures could be fodder for his primary opponents, especially those not in legislative office. And even a vote against them might not insulate him from opponents' attempts to tie him to President Obama.