Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has seen her approval ratings plummet following her vote against the proposed gun control legislation.
A funny thing happened on the way back from the Senate…
Senators — many for the first time in their professional careers — faced true voter outrage for their votes on the universal gun background check law, which was defeated on the Senate floor. The bill, created as a bipartisan effort and introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to address at least some of the concerns raised in the gun control debate, was blocked by an automatic filibuster — the vote to overturn the block was defeated 54 to 46.
The debate was triggered by public outrage at the movie theater shooting at Aurora, Colo., when 12 people were killed at a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which 20 children and six teachers and administrators were killed. In public polling, support for a bill requiring universal background checks for gun purchasers reached 91 percent — an unprecedented majority for any issue.
After the vote, many senators felt that the issue was dead. There was a general feeling — while the issue had mass support — that it would not carry weight in the voting booth, and once the inevitability of congressional rejection came to pass, the issue would fade from the public’s imagination and Congress would return to business as usual.
It didn’t work out that way.
Ayotte’s bad week
An example of what happened can be seen with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). Prior to the now-infamous vote, Ayotte was a relatively popular senator, with a 48 percent approval rating to 35 disapproving, based on an October Public Policy Polling survey.
After the vote, she now polls at 44 percent approving, 46 percent disapproving, and is facing attacks ads from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (I-N.Y.) Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ (D-Ariz.) Americans for Responsible Solutions and — during a town hall meeting — was confronted by the daughter of the principal from Sandy Hook Elementary School.
She has publicly been criticized for rejecting the dinner invitation of a woman whose husband was killed in a drive-by shooting. “I believe that expanding and strengthening our background check system, which has stopped more than two million attempted purchases by dangerous people since its inception in 1998, will save lives,” wrote Anne Lyczak in her letter, leaked by MAIG. “And this is something that your constituents support — 89 percent support going beyond the provisions of the Manchin-Toomey amendment to require a background check for every gun purchase.”
Even though the letter had an open date for the dinner, the senator’s office rejected the request in an email to Lyczak. “Unfortunately, the Senator’s schedule had been planned for some time and she is already committed to events and meetings for this state work period,” read the email. “If you would like, I can keep your request in our queue and let you know when an opportunity arises.”
Dinner invitations from families of gun violence victims were also rejected by Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
Backed into a corner, Ayotte has switched to playing defense. “Out-of-state special interests are running false ads attacking me and even lying about my efforts to prevent gun-related violence. I want to set the record straight: I support effective background checks and in fact voted recently to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System [NICS],” the senator wrote in an op-ed article with Seacoastonline.com, which continued:
“Some of my colleagues want to expand the broken background check system we have now. In my view, we shouldn’t be expanding a flawed system. The focus should be on fixing the existing system, which criminals are flouting. We need to make sure we are enforcing current law and prosecuting those who attempt to illegally obtain firearms. And we must ensure that NICS includes records currently not being entered in the system, including mental health adjudications where an individual is found to be a danger to themselves and others.”
The senator claimed to have supported the Grassley-Cruz amendment, the Republican alternative to the Manchin-Toomey bill. The Republican version would not have mandated universal background checks and would have exempted background checks for Internet and gun show sales. It was filibustered and the vote to overturn failed 52 to 48.
Sen. Ayotte was not alone in having a bad week following the background check vote. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who opposed Manchin-Toomey, has indicated he would support a compromise of Manchin-Toomey and Grassley-Cruz. Pryor is up for re-election in 2014, and his popular support has since slipped. Sen. Flake, whose constituent support has also bottomed out, stated he would reverse his opposition to universal gun checks if Internet sales were made exempt. The senator feels that requiring background checks for Internet transactions is too costly and inconvenient.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who also opposed Manchin-Toomey, asked the Democratic leadership to ask MAIG to back off. That Bloomberg-backed group has begun airing attack ads against Pryor, targeting the African-American community in particular. MAIG and others are hedging their bets that without the African-American community’s support, Pryor doesn’t stand a chance at being reelected. Without strong voter support, the Democratic leadership believes Pryor will be swamped in a general election in the Republican-leaning purple state and that the Democrats will lose the seat.
MAIG declined the offer.
The current tide against senators who voted against Manchin-Toomey has been so intense that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) now believes that the filibustering of Manchin-Toomey was only a temporary setback that will eventually be reversed.
“Joe Manchin called me yesterday,” Reid said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review Journal. “He thinks he has a couple more votes. The one senator, Republican Senator from New Hampshire [Kelly Ayotte], has been — wham, man has she been hit hard. She’s the only senator in the Northeast to vote against background checks. She went from a hugely positive number in New Hampshire — her negatives now outweigh her positives. She is being hit every place she goes. So we are going to pick up some more votes. I may be able to get another Democrat or two. That would get us up to 57. We may only need three additional Republicans. So we’ll see.”