Did the senators who voted against a proposal last week to expand background checks on gun buyers take an electoral risk?
At first glance, it would seem that they did. Background checks are broadly popular with the public. Overwhelming majorities of 80 to 90 percent of the public say they favor background checks when guns are purchased at gun shows, at gun shops or online. Support for background checks drops when guns are bought through informal channels, or gifts from family members — but the amendment that the Senate voted upon last week, sponsored by the Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, would have exempted most of these cases.
And yet, the Senate did not behave as though this was a piece of legislation favored by 80 percent or more of the public. The analysis that we posted last week suggested that, if anything, senators who are up for re-election in 2014 were less likely to vote for the bill.
Which is exactly what happened. The gun bill came up five votes short, forcing Reid to vote against it procedurally. Nate summarizes:
My view, in other words, is that polls showing 90 percent support for background checks will tend to overstate how well the Democrats’ position might play out before the electorate in practice, though public opinion was on their side on this vote.
Moreover, few of the Republican senators who are up for re-election in 2014 are vulnerable for any reason. Only one, Susan Collins of Maine, comes from a state that Barack Obama carried, and she voted for Mr. Manchin’s bill.
In fact, the safety of the Senate Republicans may have enabled them to vote against the amendment, at least in part, for a tactical reason: to protect their colleagues in the House. This is not to suggest that Republicans are likely to lose the House — but there are 17 House Republicans in districts carried by President Obama last year. By preventing the background-check bill from securing the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate, the Republicans may have prevented their House counterparts from having to take a tough vote.
Thus, Democrats are not in much of a position to capitalize on the vote from the standpoint of individual seats in Congress in 2014. To the extent that the issue plays favorably for Democrats in 2014, it is likely to be for symbolic reasons — because they are able to persuade voters that it reflects a Republican Party that is outside the mainstream.
Which is what I said last week, and in the weeks before. Nate's analysis is worth reading completely as his numbers show pretty convincingly that no Senate Republicans are going to suffer from this next year. The real issue was sparing House Republicans from going on record against it, and the Senate GOP played it perfectly.
Look for them to do the same on immigration reform.
Count on it.