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Dems want gun control, but worry it could cost them midterms

Published on February 22, 2018


Dems want gun control, but worry it could cost them midterms


Democrats mulling how to approach gun control on the campaign trail this year are weighing their tough history on the subject against the burning politics of the moment.

The killings of 17 people at a Florida high school has led to an outpouring of student protests and new energy for the gun control movement. Polls show almost unanimous support for an expansion of background checks.

But the issue is a delicate one for party leaders hoping to flip both chambers in this year’s midterms by defeating Republicans in conservative-leaning districts where tougher gun laws can be radioactive.

As the issue continues to dominate the headlines, some Democrats back an understated approach, particularly with vulnerable Democrats like Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) up for reelection in red states.

“It’s certainly more of a base issue than in years past,” said one Senate Democratic aide who works for a senator who has been mentioned as a 2020 presidential candidate.

But the aide said the strategy wouldn’t be effective everywhere.

“It’s not going to be a top down every state strategy. Some places it will work, Illinois, Florida and Colorado suburban districts,” the aide said. “And other places it won’t, like North Carolina.”

Democrats paid a steep political price after championing an assault weapons ban in 1994, and are wary of energizing the GOP base.

One former Democratic leadership aide put it bluntly: “How do you keep from having a conversation about sensible changes be turned into, ‘They want to take your guns away?’”

Meredith Kelly, spokeswoman for the House Democrats’ campaign arm, said the party has no plan for a national messaging strategy on gun reform, citing the “geographically and culturally diverse House battlefield.”

“For some candidates, gun violence prevention could be a much-discussed issue, particularly in the suburbs or where there’s sadly been a recent gun-related tragedy,” she said. “For others, it’s just not part of the local conversation and it won’t necessarily be the first foot they put forward in terms of messaging.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D), a Texas Blue Dog who took the lead on a House-passed bill strengthening the background check system, acknowledged the difficulties in confronting some voters who want to paint all gun reforms, no matter how narrow, as akin to confiscation.


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