The Democrats Who Voted 'No' On Background Checks

04.18.13 7:00 PM ET

Tomasky takes to task the four Democratic Senators who voted against background checks:

Sickening. The whole thing. The four cowardly Democrats, too. Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Mark Pryor, and Heidi Heitkamp. Heitkamp won’t face her voters again for five years. Baucus has been around long enough to be able to be bigger than this. Begich and Pryor, who face reelection next year, have the least lame excuses of all, but they are cowards too.

Jonathan Chait provides a useful corrective: 

If you’re picking your battles, background checks are as good an issue as any to lay down. For one thing, as I’ve suggested, guns loom disproportionately large in the political world of red state Democrats. Guns are the way they signal home state cultural affinity, giving themselves a chance to get their economic message heard. Their A rating from the National Rifle Association is powerful shorthand. And yes, the NRA is crazy and partisan, and was opposing a bill it used to support and that most Republicans support. But none of those facts overcomes the blunt reality of the A rating’s political value.

What’s more, this particular gun vote was an especially good time for Democrats to defect. None of them cast the deciding vote; it fell six votes shy of defeating a filibuster. The bill was already a compromise of a compromise, something that would have stopped a tiny fraction of gun crimes. Even if it passed the Senate, it faced steep odds of passing the House, where it probably would have died, been weakened further, or even turned into a law that weakened existing gun laws.

I'll just leave this quote from North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp right here:

“In our part of the country, this isn’t an issue,” Ms. Heitkamp explained in an interview afterward. “This is a way of life. This is how people feel, and it is extraordinarily difficult to explain that, especially to grieving parents.”

Bottom line, she said, “I’m going to represent my state.”

Senators represent their constituents, not a national opinion poll.

And when it does come to polling numbers, they also know that voters rank the issues most important to them. There's a reason those Democratic senators won't be terribly worried by Mayor Bloomberg's rant:

“Today’s vote is a damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have on Washington,” Bloomberg said. “More than 40 U.S. senators would rather turn their backs on the 90 percent of Americans who support comprehensive background checks than buck the increasingly extremist wing of the gun lobby.”

That "90 percent of Americans" is indeed impressive. But only four percent of Americans think the issue should be our nation's top priority:

Guns? 9th place. 

That's why a senator being barraged by attack ads by Bloomberg will say: "I thought it more important to focus on jobs, the economy, and fixing the budget."

And guess what? Voters will agree.