Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the well-funded group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is seriously considering a months-long television, radio and direct-mail campaign against Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, one of four Democrats who opposed expanding a background check for guns.
The goal: Make an example of him.
Senior members of Mayor's Against Illegal Guns met at length Sunday to debate potential responses to the failure of President Obama's gun regulation package, including a watered-down background check provision that fell five votes short.
In addition to Pryor, three Democratic senators abandoned Obama: Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. The group discussed targeting two of those senators: Pryor and Baucus, according to a senior official involved in the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Unlike the others who face election in 2014, Heitkamp was just elected to a six-year term. Begich was considered more secure politically than Pryor and Baucus, and thus a less attractive target. Baucus announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election.
That leaves Pryor as possibly the lone target of a campaign to convince Democrats that there is a price to pay for opposing modest gun regulations, even in a conservative-leaning state like Arkansas.
The broader goal of the Bloomberg group is to provide a political counterweight to the National Rifle Association which has had virtually unmitigated influence over Congress since 1994, when Democrats lost control of the House and blamed then-President Clinton's assault-weapons ban.
The Bloomberg group is mulling a variety of messages and methods for Arkansas. One approach would be to target reliable Democratic voters, including African Americans, with advertising that calls out Pryor for "opposing the president's agenda," the official said. Another would be to expand the campaign to suburban women and other moderates. The campaign might not be limited to the issue of guns.
"Money would not be an object," the official said, adding that a decision on whether to target Pryor would come soon and that action against other Democrats is still possible.
The son of a popular former senator, Pryor is a brand name in Arkansas who nonetheless faces a tough re-election. The Democratic bench in Arkansas is shallow, which limits Bloomberg's ability to impact the Democratic primary.
The risk to Democrats is that Bloomberg's money could weaken Pryor for the general election, tipping the race to the GOP. On the general notion of sending Pryor a message, liberal columnist Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times recently wrote, "It will mean electing someone who is even worse on guns and just about everything else, most likely the Club for Growth's emissary to Arkansas, Tom Cotton."
Brantley noted in an interview that Pryor supported Obamacare. On gun control, the veteran columnist said, "Democrats aren't that much different than Republicans in Arkansas."
That will be the case for much of the 2014 midterms, when Senate elections will be fought predominantly in pro-gun territory "“ Southern and Mountain West conservative states. The picture is brighter for Bloomberg and Obama in 2016, when Electoral College math favors those who back gun regulations.
Obama's political operation, Organizing for Action, is urging its activists today to tweet those who opposed Obama, including Pryor. There are no plans for an ad campaign against the four Democrats, an official said.
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