Well, well, well. The NRA says it’s willing to consider tighter regulation of those bump stock things. Still, warn The Daily Beast’s Gideon Resnick and Sam Stein, read the fine print. It wants the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to do it, not Congress. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill promise hearings. So far, only hearings.
We shall see what we shall see, but even if the NRA yields on this one, friends, do not let your guards down. The NRA is out there doing the voodoo that it unfortunately does so well, and now’s a good time to take stock and wonder if any Democrats in red or swing states can win by running against the organization.
I’m going to run down the role the NRA is likely to play in a handful of next year’s Senate races, but let’s start with this year’s races, notably in Virginia. The governor’s race pits Democrat Ralph Northam against Republican Ed Gillespie. Northam is well up in public polling, but my colleague Sam Stein (busy man!) reports that some Democrats following the race closely are “panicked that complacency has set in.”
Northam has an F from the NRA, which is pretty brave for a Virginia politician. Gillespie has an A and the group’s endorsement. The NRA has spent around $2 million so far on the three statewide Virginia races, including the lieutenant governor’s race and the attorney general’s race (incumbent Democratic AG Mark Herring is a particular target; back in 2015, he announced that Virginia would no longer honor concealed-carry permits from 25 other states, which grew into such a controversy that Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe had to cut a deal with the Republican legislature to reverse it).
There’s a month to go. The NRA was going to start running TV ads in Richmond and Roanoke this week, but in the wake of Vegas is waiting until next. No one yet knows the content. It’s unlikely to be children petting dogs. If Gillespie steals this race after being 13 points behind in a Washington Post poll one month out, the NRA will claim a big chunk of the credit.
Now let’s look to next year. Nine Democratic senators will be defending seats in states Donald Trump won: Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, and Jon Tester in Montana.
What we’re going to do now is run down each of these incumbent’s NRA grades, but first, a note about these grades. The NRA doesn’t give them out every year. They only give out grades in the year an incumbent is running. So the last grade any of these people got from the NRA came in 2012. Remember that—it’s important, because of something that happened in 2013, as I’ll explain.
OK, so back in 2012, four of the above nine got F’s from the NRA: Baldwin, Brown, McCaskill, and Stabenow. If we just go by the numbers, McCaskill might be number one on the NRA’s list. It’s the reddest of the four states by far, Trump having won it by nearly 20 points. But she doesn’t seem to have drawn a real strong opponent so far. Some high-profile Republicans declined to run.
Sherrod Brown hasn’t been so lucky. The Republican he beat in 2012, Josh Mandel, is running again. The polls are tight. The NRA backed Mandel in 2012, and presumably it will do the same here. Stabenow and Baldwin represent states Trump barely won, but we have to presume the NRA will come after them hard.
A bit more complicated is what they’ll do about the Democrats who’ve mostly toed their line. Manchin, Donnelly, and Heitkamp got A’s in 2012, Tester an A-, and Casey a B+. For a lot of lobbying organizations that would be good enough. But for an organization that thinks of itself as smiting its foes with the clenched fist of truth, maybe not.
This brings us back to what happened in 2013. That was the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the effort by Manchin and GOP Sen. Pat Toomey to pass a background check bill. Every one of these five supported Manchin-Toomey except Heitkamp. This will lower their grades. By how much, we don’t know, but Toomey went from an A to a C, so we can presume that something similar will happen to these four, and they’ll be targeted for defeat.
And Heitkamp should be fine? Uh, ask Mark Pryor. The former Arkansas Democrat also voted against Manchin-Toomey. What good did it do him with the NRA? He went from an A to a B-, and the group spent more than $1 million for Republican Tom Cotton, who beat him.
That was the moment the NRA stopped pretending it was in any way a bipartisan organization. Now, it’s just out to get Democrats period, usually on the pretext that they’ll vote for squishy judges. So no Democrat is safe. Red-state Democrats can vote against a gun-control measure if it’s what they believe, or what they believe their constituents would want them to do. But if they cast such a vote thinking it’ll get them a pass from the NRA they’re being delusional.
It would be great to see some of these Democrats take a stand against the NRA and win. Manchin showed guts in 2013. It was rough for him for a while, but lately he’s at 57 percent approval in West Virginia. If most of these people can survive 2018, and if Northam can win next month, the fist will be a little less clenched.