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As we all have heard by now, the bipartisan supported proposal to require gun shops to do background checks on individuals purchasing firearms died in the Senate yesterday. After months of pushing from the White House, several red-state Democrats and even some Republicans; the filibuster won.
If you were part of the 90% who believed background checks is actually a good thing, then yesterday was not a good day for you. If you are an American who continues to lose faith in the political system, yesterday was not a good day for you. If you were a Senator that stuck your neck out for this bill, yesterday was not a good day for you.
If you are one of the higher-ups in the NRA however, yesterday was Christmas morning. Congratulations, you did it. We have to hand it to you, you made a common sense and nationally supported idea into something that would scare Senators away from doing the right (and popular) thing. You defeated democracy, just like all lobbyist groups tend to do.
But enough about the NRA for the time being, let’s look at the importance of who voted against Manchin-Toomey yesterday. As we all know, four Democrats (plus Majority Leader Harry Reid for procedural reasons) voted against the bill and they are Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska.
However with the exception of maybe Baucus (but not really) this was no surprise even though Republicans Mark Kirk, John McCain, Toomey and Susan Collins all supported the measure.
Our politics has changed. Well maybe not too much as primaries have been around for quite a while but as of late with more and more advocacy groups and the explosion of social media; we have turned the corner in terms of how our representatives vote.
Every big vote is now amplified and publicized. All it takes is a hashtag and suddenly you are a big target by some SuperPAC or special interest group such as the NRA. Groups like the NRA, inundated with money, become the “leaders” when it comes to targeting incumbent politicians.
Yet the Democratic Party has done the best job at winning elections as of late. Whether that’s due to just finding the right candidate or letting the Republican Party self-immolate, they have continued to expand their borders into states that normally wouldn’t go to Democrats. That has been a bittersweet moment though for activists and party loyalists.
Take this for example, of all the states that Barack Obama lost by about ten percentage points in 2008 and 2012, look at how many Democrats there are serving in the Senate:
- Mark Begich (Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Mark Pryor (Arkansas), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Jay Rockefeller (West Virginia) and Tim Johnson (South Dakota)
In states that Obama kept close (or even won) in 2008 but lost healthily:
- Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Jon Tester (Montana), Max Baucus (Montana)
When you add in Kay Hagan of North Carolina (now a purple-leaning state on the national level) you have 11 Democrats or almost 20% of the caucusing Democrats who are in red seats. Those are 11 critical votes that the President always needs in his backpocket especially considering he always needs 6 Republican votes (providing the caucus stays together) to get a majority.
Just for the sake of this post, look at how many Republicans are serving in seats that the President won by five points:
- Mark Kirk (Illinois), Susan Collins (Maine), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), Dean Heller (Nevada), Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania)
Considering Johnson and Toomey are closely aligned with the Tea Party, it might as well be just 5 votes that he can hope to swing in “blue” states (states with a clear Democratic edge). In states that the President won by double digits only Collins and Kirk can be considered “in danger”.
This is part of the problem we are in, groups such as the NRA have made negotiation such a sticking point that you can expect less and less so-called Profiles in Courage type Senators to step forward. The Republican Party has ruined itself in major seats by voting for far-right candidates that dominate a primary but can’t win a general.
Unfortunately guns are now the pre-eminent issue in America when it comes to party purity tests. The NRA has such power behind it that officeholders are voting scared, not voting correctly even though background checks are a universal idea.
For all of those who want to pressure Democrats such as Pryor, Landrieu and Begich; good luck. You aren’t going to find many more progressive candidates who can win a statewide election in those states. While the vote is abhorrent, those are the Senators who have kept you from dealing with Majority Leader McConnell. With such few pickup opportunities in 2014, this could be an ugly election for Democrats if party infighting continues.
But then again, should we have to put up with this? We have made it loud and clear that voting against this bill is tantamount to the national belief. Background checks aren’t like the public option, in terms of it being a liberal or progressive idea. Its the right idea, not one of the right or left.
If they aren’t for us, aren’t they practically against us? If a seat is more important than the nation’s beliefs, is it even worth it?
That’s the question we are all asking.