The debate over gun control, being supercharged by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's expensive new ad campaign pushing universal background checks, raises the possibility of turning relatively safe Democratic Senate seats into battlegrounds just as the fight over guns in 1994 helped give the GOP control of the Senate and House, conservative activists say.
"Is it possible that when the smoke clears at midnight on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, we will owe a collective debt of gratitude to Mayor Bloomberg?" said one activist on background. "His elevation of gun control in half a dozen key states might possibly help hand over control of the Senate."
Democrats cooled their push for gun control after the 1994 elections, but the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the public's support for some anti-gun action has sparked a new push for gun control legislation, including an assault weapons ban, from President Obama and Senate Democrats.
Congress, however, is unlikely to push for major reforms, making Bloomberg's effort significant and a potential influence in the 2014 elections. But while his message is accepted by many Americans, Bloomberg's image as a rich mayor trying to tell blue-collar Americans what they can eat, drink, smoke and shoot may ruin his anti-gun campaign, the conservatives believe.
The debate could affect races in Iowa, Michigan and West Virginia where Democratic senators are retiring, and the re-election of Democrats in pro-gun states such as Arkansas. One example: After Bloomberg announced his $12 million campaign, Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor tweeted, "I've gotten a lot of questions about NYC Mayor gun ad. My response? I don't take gun advice from the Mayor of NYC. I listen to Arkansans."
But analyst Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told Secrets that if Bloomberg keeps the focus on background checks and not an assault weapons ban, it may not hurt Democrats. "I think the true danger that Bloomberg poses to Democrats is if he intervenes in some red district primaries and knocks off one of the few remaining House blue dogs, effectively handing the seat to a conservative Republican," he said.