No political organization has had a better year than the NRA. On Tuesday night in Colorado, the group demonstrated that it could not only lobby its way to success, but it could punish elected officials that crossed it.
The two Democrats who lost their jobs weren't ousted solely because of the NRA's activity, of course. Recall campaigns are never single-issue, but rely on coalitions of the disenchanted. Both races were close. As the Denver Post noted, the circumstances of the races — unexpected and subject to restrictions on normal voting processes — made ground efforts crucial. In other words: organization. The NRA didn't spend as much money as backers of the candidates under fire — $360,000 to backers' $3 million, including $350,000 from Michael Bloomberg — but it had people on the ground. The Post's report on turnout features, at the top of the page, a member of the NRA encouraging turn-out.
This was precisely what President Obama noted in his mournful speech following the defeat of compromise background check legislation in the Senate.
The point is those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence will have to be as passionate, and as organized, and as vocal as those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe. Ultimately, you outnumber those who argued the other way. But they're better organized. They're better financed. They’ve been at it longer. And they make sure to stay focused on this one issue during election time.
Obama's point at the time was that those who blocked the common-sense steps — the NRA and its allies — were more effective in the halls of power. They were able to build relationships with elected officials that allowed them to then influence how the elected officials voted. But the last sentence in that quote relates directly to last night: the NRA stayed focused.
Political influence is based on the ability to reward and punish. The NRA rewards in part with money. According to Open Secrets, the group's PAC spent more than $2 million in 2012, bolstering the campaigns of candidates (mostly Republican) it supported. (It also rewarded senators in tight districts who voted against the background check compromise by running ads in their defense.) In 2012, the NRA punished, too, spending $9 million trying to defeat candidates it opposed (mostly Democrats). What happened in Colorado is the most extreme form of punishment, and it sends the strongest political message. We will recall you, the organization and its allies pledged following the state's vote on "modest" gun control measures. Then it did.
The NRA's 2012 investments actually didn't pan out very well. With a more Democratic electorate and bigger national issues, the organization didn't see the results it sought. The Sunlight Foundation calculates that only one percent of its 2012 investments paid off. No one will remember that. People (read: politicians) will remember that the NRA took out elected officials that voted against it. That's it.