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Red-state Dems signal support for background checks

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Pending legislative proposals to reduce gun violence are already facing a perilous path, but there's an initial hurdle that serves as prerequisite to the others: Democratic support. It's going to be tough enough to overcome Republican opposition in both chambers, but if a significant number of Senate Dems balk, too, passing meaningful legislation will be practically impossible.

With this in mind, Greg Sargent reported the other day that several red-state Democrats have been noticeably silent on their intentions, even on measures like expanded background checks, which enjoy near-universal support from the public.

But as the week has progressed, there's been some progress. As Rachel explained on the show last night, there's a rush among some in the Beltway to say momentum on gun reforms have "stalled," but the fact remains that some centrist Democrats have begun to embrace the centerpiece of their party's efforts. Take Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) of Indiana, for example.

"I am supportive of background checks," Donnelly told local media after a business roundtable discussion at the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce. "I want to make sure that people with, say, a felony or dealing with mental illness cannot get their hands on weapons that can cause so much destruction. And so we're trying to put together a piece of legislation that will reflect that."

Asked whether he backs background checks at gun shows, Donnelly said, "Yes."

As best as I can tell, this is the clearest response the freshman senator has given on the issue to date.

What's more, while Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) said she's waiting for additional legislative details, a local report noted yesterday she "likes the idea of expanding background checks for gun purchases."

Also note, if some red-state Dems muster the courage to back wildly popular proposals, it will necessarily pressure their centrist colleagues to do the same.

In addition to Donnelly and Hagan, the other red-state Democrats to keep an eye on are Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), each of whom have kept pretty quiet about their willingness to support gun-safety legislation.