Obama gun-control push poses 2014 challenge for House Democrats

President Obama’s decision to make gun control a priority could complicate the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) recruiting efforts for the 2014 midterm elections.

While many gun-control proposals being discussed by Democrats have fairly broad support at this point, several of the districts they need to pick up to win House control are more rural and pro-gun than the nation as a whole, mostly because of redistricting. 


The White House said President Obama on Wednesday will unveil a “comprehensive” proposal to combat gun violence that will include bans on assault weapons and high-capacity clips and increased background checks on gun buyers.

If the issue remains a political football heading into 2014, Democrats will likely have to field candidates in those districts who disagree with their party on gun control.

“In order to win back the districts Democrats need to win, they need to pick up a lot of pro-gun districts,” said Democratic strategist Steve Murphy. 

“When you look at the overall national demographics and the Electoral College, and many statewide races, the changes are benefiting many Democrats. But when it comes to races for the House, we don’t have that advantage.”

Former DCCC Chairman Martin Frost (Texas) argued that following the recent shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., the nation had reached a “tipping point” on gun control. 

But he said that the longer the issue lingers, the worse it will be for House Democrats’ chances of picking up the House.

“It’s in the Democratic Party’s interest to get this issue dealt with as quickly as possible and put it behind them. I’m for what the president appears to want to [do], but I’d hope he’d accomplish this as quickly as possible and get this off the table. Then you don’t have to worry about the issue when you’re recruiting candidates,” Frost said. “Do this quickly, sooner rather than later. Hopefully, pass it, and see if this can be a positive in some of the suburban districts.”

Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 by winning a number of rural districts with anti-gun-control candidates, many of them centrist Blue Dogs. 

Many of the party’s 2010 losses came in those same districts, while their 2012 gains came mostly in more diverse, suburban and upper-income districts.

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) has pointed to those districts as the party’s priority in 2014. In many suburban districts they’re targeting, from Philadelphia to Denver, the gun-control issue is likely to help them. 

But to win back the majority, Democrats must also succeed in more rural districts they’re targeting in places like western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, West Virginia and Arkansas.

“Our Democratic recruits will reflect the values of their districts and be able to win,” argued DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson. 

“Republican recruits, on the other hand, have time and again put party ideology and dogma first and left themselves out of touch with districts they represent on issues like this.”

Democrats have already shown they’re willing to recruit candidates whose views match those of their districts rather than those views held more broadly in the party. 

Two candidates who ran strong 2012 campaigns but lost — Val Demings in Florida and Brendan Mullen in Indiana — are likely to run again.

Mullen, a military veteran who during the 2012 campaign described himself as a “strong proponent of Second Amendment rights,” is likely to aim for a rematch against freshman Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) in a conservative, gun-heavy northern Indiana district. 

Mullen lost to Walorski by less than 2 percentage points, even as Mitt Romney beat Obama by 14 points in the district.

Demings, a former Orlando police chief who is likely to seek a rematch against Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) in a suburban, Republican-leaning district, was involved in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (I) Mayors Against Illegal Guns before her run. 

Demings is a gun owner, and said before the 2012 election that she supports both the Second Amendment and “responsible gun ownership.”

While Webster was backed by the National Rifle Association, Demings was helped by a big-spending campaign from Bloomberg’s super-PAC. She lost her race to Webster by 4 percentage points, running slightly ahead of Obama.

It’s easier for House candidates of both parties to find more separation from their leadership during midterm elections because the focus is more on their races, making it easier to draw contrasts. 

But there has been less and less split-ticket voting in recent years. With both Obama and House Democratic leaders calling for stricter gun rules, those candidates in pro-gun districts will have to be vocal about their Second Amendment support to get some distance.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who is helping the DCCC’s recruitment efforts, said the group is “absolutely seeking candidates that fit the district, and we’re very excited that there are many districts in the country that will elect strongly pro-gun-owners’-rights Democrats.”

He argued that House Democrats’ push on the issue could actually benefit those in more culturally conservative districts.

“It gives our candidates in tougher districts an opportunity to show how they’re different than Washington, D.C., Democrats, and that can only help in many districts that are competitive,” he said.