Will the background-check backlash cost some senators their jobs?

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Pond scum is better than Sen. Jeff Flake, says... Sen. Flake.
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Pond scum is better than Sen. Jeff Flake, says... Sen. Flake.

A poll finds that several lawmakers who opposed tightening gun laws are taking a beating in the polls

A new survey by the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling suggests that some of the five senators who voted against expanding federal background checks on gun buyers are facing a stinging backlash. One member of the group, which includes four Republicans and one Democrat, even earned the dubious distinction of becoming the nation's least popular senator. "Given the public's dim view of Congress in general," that senator, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), said, "that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum." Flake acknowledged that his low numbers were due in part to the vote — 32 percent of his state's voters approved of him, 51 disapproved, and 52 percent said they were less likely to vote for him because of his vote on the gun measure.

The backlash isn't hard to understand, as 70 percent of those polled by PPP said they approved of the amendment, which was a bipartisan compromise put together by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Other polls have put the public's backing at 90 percent. The math is clear, some analysts say. Flake in particular may very well pay for his vote, because he had said beforehand that he intended to support the Manchin-Toomey amendment. "Six more years of this and Arizona might just find itself with a new senator," says David Nir at Daily Kos.

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But Flake isn't facing re-election next year, or the year after that. He won't have to make his case to voters for nearly six years. And his fellow Republicans on the hot seat — Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — won't face voters again until 2016 or 2018. "Only the Democrat — Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska — is up for re-election in 2014," says David Grant at The Christian Science Monitor. "So the question becomes, will these poll numbers have any bite when the Republican senators return to the electoral ring in 2016 or 2018? The answer depends, as so often is the case, on who you ask." Some say the issue will dog these politicians for years; others think support for Second Amendment gun rights is too strong for the sting to last.

It may well be that gun-control advocates who expect these politicians to lose their next elections will themselves end up disappointed, argues Dan Friedman at the New York Daily News. "Some Democrats hoping to reverse their recent beating on a background check compromise seem on the way to reading polls like Mitt Romney backers last October, and seeing what they wish for," says Friedman. PPP is just telling Democrats what they want to hear, he adds. The truth is that, while "almost everyone supports better background checks in the abstract," politicians who stand up for gun-rights voters know from experience that those Second Amendment advocates are "very motivated to go to the polls."

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