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Bloomberg's $50 Million Gun Control Push Faces Challenges

The former New York mayor hopes to counter the National Rifle Association with a big-money effort.
Image: File photo of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg looking out a window in New York
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg looks out a window during a news conference announcing a lease for commercial office space to the law firm WilmerHale that contains incentives for energy efficiency at 7 World Trade Center in New York, in this April 5, 2011 file photo. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on January 31, 2014 appointed former New York City Mayor Bloomberg as his special envoy for cities and climate change, in a bid to build momentum ahead of a planned U.N. summit meeting in September. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT)SHANNON STAPLETON / Reuters

Why Bloomberg’s new gun-control push won’t be easy

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement that he’ll spend some $50 million -- this year alone -- to build a grassroots network to counter the National Rifle Association faces three key challenges. The first is the NRA’s popularity, especially outside the Northeast and outside of Democratic voters. According to our Dec. 2013 NBC/WSJ poll, released just before the one-year anniversary of the tragic Newtown shootings, the NRA enjoyed a 39%-31% fav/unfav rating, including 41%-20% among independents, 36%-31% among suburban respondents, and 42%-30% among folks in the West. By comparison, Bloomberg’s own fav/unfav rating in the same poll was 19%-24%. That said, there is one key group where his efforts could pay dividends: with women. According to the same poll, female views about the NRA were upside down (33%-35% fav/unfav), and 61% of them said the sale of firearms should be stricter (versus 52% of all respondents). “Women, and mothers in particular, will be the focus of the organizing and outreach, a path that he and his advisers have modeled after groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving,” writes the New York Times, which first reported on Bloomberg’s new initiative.

The red-state dilemma

A second challenge for Bloomberg is geography. Democrats have built their Senate majority by winning races in several red states -- think Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Mark Begich in Alaska, and Mark Pryor in Arkansas. These are the same Democrats who voted against federal background checks last April. (Yet other red-state Dems supported the background checks like Joe Manchin, Mary Landrieu, and Jon Tester.) These Democrats are also the ones who have appeared to doom President Obama’s chances of getting his surgeon general nominee confirmed in the Senate due to the NRA’s opposition to the nominee. Bloomberg has dismissed the idea that his efforts could endanger Democrats’ control of the Senate, either this year or in future elections. “You can tell me all you want that the Republicans would be worse in the Senate than the Democrats,” he told the New York Times. “Maybe they would. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.”

The GOP’s adamant opposition

Bloomberg’s third challenge is the aforementioned Republican Party, which is adamantly opposed to gun-control efforts. That same Dec. 2013 NBC/WSJ poll found just 28% of Republicans wanting stricter gun laws, and it had GOP support of the NRA at a 58%-11% clip. Last April, only four Senate Republicans voted for background checks (Pat Toomey, John McCain, Susan Collins, and Mark Kirk). Yes, a single party (Democrats) can enact significant changes when it comes to gun laws. But as the battle over health care has shown, the fight never really stops when one party (Republicans) is fully or mostly opposed. After all, remember those state Senate recall efforts in Colorado….

Reinventing the gun-control playbook

All of that said, Bloomberg’s new multi-million-dollar effort is striking, because it’s a recognition that his earlier gun-control push didn’t work. “Mr. Bloomberg’s blueprint reimagines the way gun control advocates have traditionally confronted the issue. Rather than relying so heavily on television ad campaigns, Mr. Bloomberg will put a large portion of his resources into the often-unseen field operations that have been effective for groups like the N.R.A. in driving single-issue, like-minded voters to the polls,” the Times says. As Bloomberg himself told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie on “TODAY”: “This is a battle for the hearts and minds of Americans." And he’s doing all of this with a healthy sense of self. “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close,” he told the Times.

Another chapter for the “Rise of the Oligarchs”

A final point on Bloomberg: This news comes after the NBC Political Unit’s look at the oligarchs who are playing a bigger and bigger role in American politics. And one of those oligarchs is Bloomberg himself. “In 2012, Bloomberg gave the fifth most to outside spending groups of any individual in America, shelling out $13.7 million. This cycle, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent has already jumped to second place, with $8.7 million already donated.”

Obama and Biden head to Pennsylvania to talk about the economy

Finally, President Obama and Vice President Biden head to the Pittsburgh, PA area to talk about the economy and job training at 3:45 pm ET. “While in Oakdale [PA], the president will visit the Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center to tour a classroom and deliver remarks on the importance of jobs-driven skills training in a 21st Century economy,” the White House says of today’s event.

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