Democratic leaders are wooing staunchly pro-gun candidates to run in pivotal Senate races at the same time they are discussing a strategy for bringing gun control legislation back up for debate.
The question is whether two of the Democrats’ most promising potential candidates in Montana and South Dakota will pay a price for the leadership’s political maneuverings in Washington. Or will recruiting candidates who do not support President Obama’s gun control agenda have any effect on Democratic fundraising efforts?
Brad Dayspring, the communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, took a swipe at Democrats for playing both sides of the gun issue.
“Washington Democrats preach gun control, but are recruiting adamantly pro-gun candidates like Schweitzer & Herseth-Sandlin. Can't be both,” he posted on Twitter.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) posted a message on its online action center Friday calling for people to sign up to support Obama’s agenda of immigration reform, common-sense gun control and equal rights. But it’s eyeing candidates in Montana and South Dakota who are not likely to support Obama’s gun control initiatives.
Justin Barasky, the DSCC’s spokesman, said his party’s commitment to expanding background checks for gun sales cannot be doubted.
“The bottom line on guns, the overwhelming majority of Democrats voted for that measure and 41 of 45 Republicans voted against it,” he said. “Even if every single Democrat had voted for it, it would not have passed.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidAfter healthcare fail, 4 ways to revise conservative playbook Dem senator 'not inclined to filibuster' Gorsuch This obscure Senate rule could let VP Mike Pence fully repeal ObamaCare once and for all MORE (D-Nev.) has pledged to bring gun control legislation back to the floor.
Barasky said the Democrats have the Senate majority because they have a big-tent party.
“There’s a litmus test to be a Republican senator. You have to check off a list. That’s why we won five red states in a presidential year,” he said in reference to the 2012 election.
The DSCC has not yet met with popular former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, according to a Democratic aide, but Democratic leaders view him as the best candidate to keep retiring Sen. Max BaucusMax BaucusGOP hasn’t reached out to centrist Dem senators Five reasons why Tillerson is likely to get through Business groups express support for Branstad nomination MORE’s (D-Mont.) seat.
The DSCC has poll data showing former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) is the strongest candidate to succeed retiring Sen. Tim JohnsonTim JohnsonCourt ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada Bank lobbyists counting down to Shelby’s exit Former GOP senator endorses Clinton after Orlando shooting MORE (D-S.D.), although officially it has praised both Herseth Sandlin and Johnson’s son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, as promising contenders.
A political blog for the Argus Leader reported that DSCC officials “are leaning, perhaps even heavily leaning, for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.”
Schweitzer and Herseth Sandlin both have "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which endorsed both candidates in their most recent campaigns.
Schweitzer told the National Journal in a recent interview that he is in favor of background checks, but it's unclear whether he would have supported a proposal crafted by Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinPath to 60 narrows for Trump pick Overnight Healthcare: Ryan visits White House amid healthcare rubble Pence pushes Manchin in home state to support Gorsuch MORE (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that failed in the Senate this month.
He also told the publication he has “more [guns] than I need and less than I want.”
Several Republicans, including Sens. Tom CoburnTom CoburnDon't be fooled: Carper and Norton don't fight for DC Coburn: Trump's tweets aren't presidential The road ahead for America’s highways MORE (R-Okla.) and Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeOvernight Tech: High court hears case on where patent suits are filed | House to vote on blocking internet privacy rules | Facebook's new tools for voters House to vote Tuesday on blocking Obama internet privacy rules Week ahead in tech: FCC privacy rules on the ropes MORE (R-Ariz.), have also said they supported expanded background checks but voted against a proposal to do just that because of concerns about how it would be implemented.
Schweitzer did not respond to a request for an interview.
David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University, can’t see Schweitzer embracing Senate legislation to expand background checks if the issue comes up on the campaign trail next year.
“I would suspect given his background, he would say no,” said Parker “He has lots of guns and says he’d like to get some more. I don’t see him saying he would support those expanded background checks.”
Parker said breaking with the Democratic leadership on gun control would help Schweitzer if he ran for Senate.
“I actually think it helps him demonstrate a way in which he is his own person and distinctive person from the national party,” he said, noting Montana has a large proportion of independent voters who are the key to Democrats winning in the conservative-leaning state.
Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., said Democrats in the state often take steadfast positions in favor of gun owners’ rights to bolster their “moderate credentials” with voters.
Schaff thinks there is little chance Herseth Sandlin would endorse the background-check legislation that foundered in the Senate this month if she jumps in the race.
My guess is that she will take the NRA line,” he said. “I don’t believe Stephanie Herseth would cross the gun people.”
The NRA endorsed Herseth Sandlin in her 2010 race against Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.). The group praised her for co-sponsoring and supporting the D.C. Personal Protection Act, which called for letting residents in the District of Columbia carry hand guns and repealing a gun registration law, and the Second Amendment Enforcement Act, another bill targeted at repealing D.C.’s gun laws.
Herseth Sandlin did not respond to a request for an interview.
Baucus, North Dakota Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampPath to 60 narrows for Trump pick Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support Overnight Finance: Senators spar over Wall Street at SEC pick's hearing | New CBO score for ObamaCare bill | Agency signs off on Trump DC hotel lease MORE, Alaska Sen. Mark BegichMark BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE and Arkansas Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE were the only four Democrats who opposed the Manchin-Toomey proposal expanding background checks to cover all sales at gun shows and over the Internet.
Schaff noted that Tessa Gould, Heitkamp’s chief of staff, previously worked for Herseth Sandlin.