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First Thoughts: Public still supports gun control

Morning Joe/Marist poll: Public still supports gun control… The problem for reformers: GOP doesn’t… Obama and using the bully pulpit to its fullest extent… President talks gun control in Denver at 5:00 pm ET… Why the deficit and debt might not be the best talking points… Hillary and Biden share the same stage… Sanford wins GOP nomination in SC; does the NRCC get involved?... Landrieu gets legit GOP challenger… And SENATE MADNESS enters Sweet 16!!!

President Barack Obama hugs a gun control activist after delivering remarks on common-sense measures to protect children from gun violence at the White House, March 28, 2013.
President Barack Obama hugs a gun control activist after delivering remarks on common-sense measures to protect children from gun violence at the White House, March 28, 2013.Yuri Gripas / Reuters

*** Public still supports gun control: In the past few weeks, two narratives have surfaced in the gun debate. One, it’s going to be difficult for Congress to pass any major gun-control legislation this year. And two, public opinion for gun-control measures is beginning to slip months after the Newtown, CT shooting tragedy. The first narrative is definitely true. The second? Not according to a brand-new Morning Joe/Marist poll. Six in 10 Americans believe that the laws covering gun sales should be stricter. That figure is virtually unchanged from the 61% who backed stricter gun laws when a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked the same question in February, even though at least one other national survey has found waning support for gun-control laws after Newtown. What’s more, the Morning Joe/Marist survey finds that a whopping 87% of Americans support background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows, and 59% favor legislation that would ban the sale of assault weapons. So when President Obama delivers remarks on guns in Colorado today at 5:00 pm ET -- and in Connecticut on Monday -- he still has appears to have public opinion on his side.

*** The problem for reformers: GOP doesn’t: But what isn’t on Obama’s side is GOP support, and that’s why getting Congress to pass any significant legislation this year will be a tall hurdle. While 60% of respondents want stricter gun laws, just 37% of Republicans agree (compared with 83% of Democrats and 55% of independents). In addition, just 41% of Republicans favor the assault-weapons ban (vs. 75% of Democrats and 55% of indies). The one measure that does receive overwhelming bipartisan support, however, is background checks -- 94% of Dems, 86% of indies, and 81% of Republicans favor them -- and that’s why it remains supporters’ best chance at achieving anything in the gun reform realm. That said, what’s the incentive for House GOPers on this? And think about what’s coming up for votes in the House: immigration reform and guns. Here’s betting House GOP leadership is willing to allow just one of those items on the floor under the scenario where Boehner has to violate the so-called Hastert Rule of not having a majority of the majority. And immigration is something party leaders want to have happen. Guns might not be the same priority for the GOP.

*** Using the bully pulpit to its fullest extent: As Obama talks gun control in Denver, CO today and in Connecticut on Monday, here’s one more point we want to make about the debate: He has used the bully pulpit on this issue to its fullest extent. Some have begun to criticize the president for not doing more, but ask yourself: Which politician in Washington is doing more across the country to talk about the issue and shape the debate? And when you look at the Morning Joe/Marist poll, Obama has been able to influence those he can influence -- Democrats and independents. While there are plenty of examples of issues where the president has dropped the ball in selling a legislative item (think the stimulus or the health-care law, especially after their passage), it’s hard to add gun control to this list.

*** Why the deficit and debt might not be the best talking points: The Morning Joe/Marist poll also asked a few questions on the economy and the deficit. The findings: By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, respondents want President Obama and Congress to make job creation their top priority (64%) instead of deficit reduction (33%). Also, Obama edges congressional Republicans by four percentage points, 44% to 40%, on who has a better approach to deal with the federal budget deficit. But the president’s approach to deficit reduction – calling for a combination of spending cuts and increased tax revenues – is more popular than the Republicans’ cuts-only approach: 42% prefer a mixture of spending cuts (including to entitlement programs) and revenue increases; 35% pick increasing mostly revenue; and just 17% choose mostly cutting government spending (including to programs like Medicare and Medicaid). Bottom line for the GOP: Solely focusing on the debt and deficit, and solely focusing on a cuts-only approach, isn’t a winning issue with the public.

*** Hillary and Biden share the same stage: As NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported on “TODAY,” Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden headlined a global women’s organization that Hillary founded 14 years ago, which produced plenty of 2016 speculation and tea-leaf reading. The New York Times: “It was an evening without overt politics and yet Mrs. Clinton’s appearance drew attention as she enters a period of deciding whether to run for president again in 2016.” Hillary Clinton is more inevitable than any other non-incumbent since Dwight Eisenhower. Indeed, the question everyone will be pondering for the next two years: Will she run? On the one hand, Hillary Clinton is more inevitable than any other non-incumbent since Dwight Eisenhower. On the other hand, it was the same situation she was in in 2005, and we knew how that turned out. By the way, we are well aware that any public movement Hillary makes will get over-covered and over-analyzed, and perhaps every one of these events THIS EARLY are truly meaningless as far as 2016 is concerned. But Hillary is in rare air, and her folks know this is the case even if they wish it weren’t so. It means every appearance and every word is more carefully orchestrated and that was clearly on display last night.

*** With Sanford win, does the NRCC get involved? Short answer: Of course, it has no choice: As expected, Mark Sanford continued his road to political comeback as he won the special congressional GOP run-off in South Carolina last night, defeating Curtis Bostic, 57%-43%. Yesterday, we asked this question: Does the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee play in this race to help its nominee, Elizabeth Colbert Busch? And today, we have this follow-up question: Does the National Republican Congressional Committee get involved? While the DCCC question is still an open debate, it’s no debate on the NRCC side. It has no choice. If the GOP loses the May 7 general election, national Republicans will have to do it all over again -- recruit candidates, hold a contested primary, etc. So it’s in their interest to win this now. The good news for Republicans: If they do lose, there’s an obvious reason -- it’s because of the candidate, not because of the party or a particular issue and it won’t be seen as some larger sign. The only reason this seat is in play is Mark Sanford, period.

*** Landrieu gets a legit GOP challenger: Roll Call writes, “Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy will challenge Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana, in what’s likely to be one of the most competitive races of 2014... The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Cassidy will officially announce his candidacy in a video to be released on Wednesday.”

*** Senate Madness -- yesterday’s results: In the 20th Century bracket, Lyndon Johnson beat Robert F. Wagner, Richard Russell edged John Sherman Cooper, Mike Mansfield defeated John Stennis, and Everett Dirksen beat William Fulbright… In the Modern Era, Ted Kennedy trounced Robert Byrd, Hubert Humphrey blew out Ed Brooke, Joe Biden defeated Jesse Helms, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan triumphed over Bob Dole. 

*** Senate Madness -- the Sweet 16: Today, we feature our third-round -- and thus Sweet 16 -- contests: In the 20th Century, it’s #1 seed LBJ vs.#12  Richard Russell (“The Master of the Senate” vs. The Southern Lion) and #2 Everett Dirksen vs. #11 Mike Mansfield… In the Modern Era, it’s #1 Ted Kennedy vs. #5 Hubert Humphrey and #2 Daniel Patrick Moynihan vs. #11 Joe Biden…. In the 19th Century, it’s #1 Daniel Webster vs. #5 Sam Houston, and #2 John C. Calhoun vs. #3 Charles Sumner… And in the Mixed Era, it’s #1 Henry Clay vs. #4 Robert La Follette and #2 Henry Cabot Lodge vs. #14 Scoop Jackson.

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