As angry as President Barack Obama was last week at senators who killed the Manchin-Toomey compromise on expanding gun background checks, he was careful not to focus his fury on the four senators from his own Democratic Party who voted “no” rather than “aye.”
Had the four Democrats flipped their votes, the White House would have needed just one more Republican to break a filibuster blocking consideration of the bill.
Three of the Senate Democrats’ “Fatal Four” — Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Max Baucus of Montana — are up for re-election in 2014. They all face stiff battles. The fourth, freshman Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, isn’t up for election until 2018.
But it is unlikely that their votes on the gun measure will be a difference-maker in their races.
As strong as the National Rifle Association and other gun-owner groups are, and as much as the White House is trying to make gun control a “red-meat issue” in 2014, the gun debate just isn’t a priority in uncertain economic times.
Days before the vote on Manchin-Toomey, a Gallup Poll of likely voters nationwide showed that of 16 major issues cited as concerns, gun control was ranked “most important” by only 4 percent — tied with education and the situation in North Korea.
In contrast, the “economy in general” topped the list with 24 percent of voters rating it “most important,” and “unemployment and jobs” was second, with 18 percent.
But could this single vote on a procedural measure dealing with gun control spell the difference between re-election and defeat for any of the three “renegade” Democrats? A closer look at their races suggests otherwise.
As Arkansas grows increasingly more Republican, and former GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson appears a shoo-in for the governorship, Pryor is in political hot water as freshman GOP Rep. Tom Cotton is considered a strong challenger next year.
The Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund are running televised salvos reminding voters that Pryor voted for Obamacare, the stimulus package, and the Wall Street bailout.
In one of the tightest Senate races anywhere in 2008, Begich eked out a win over the late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, days after the 40-year incumbent had been convicted in court on corruption charges.
Regardless of his vote on guns, Begich faces a stiff re-election battle from Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, with a Harper Polling survey showing Begich leading Treadwell by an unimpressive 44 percent to 34 percent statewide.
And whatever the 71-year-old Baucus votes or says on gun control will be dwarfed by the role the Senate Finance Committee chairman does in crafting the budget and taxes.
A Public Policy Polling survey showed that among Montana Democrats, six-termer Baucus loses to former Gov. Brian Schweitzer — who has not said whether he will run or not — by a margin of 54 percent to 35 per cent. Among all voters, Baucus leads former GOP state Sen. Corey Stapleton 45 percent to 38 percent and GOP state Rep. Champ Edmunds 47 percent to 37 percent.
Will pro-gun voters think more of all three as a result of this vote? Probably not, but in the end it probably won’t matter much in terms of their survival or demise in November of next year.
In any close race a single issue can make the difference between victory and defeat, but in the cases of Baucus, Pryor, and Begich, there are plenty of other issues for voters to ponder.
John Gizzi is a special columnist for Newsmax.com.
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