Michael Bloomberg is a one-man gang on gun control. But how much difference can he make?

March 25, 2013

Give New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) this: He walks the walk.


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I). (Spencer Platt/Getty Images )

Bloomberg is spending $12 million -- via his Mayors Against Illegal Guns group -- on ads targeting 13 senators on broadening background checks for guns, a move designed to pressure them during a two-week April recess that precedes the debate on proposed new gun control measures.

"I think I have a responsibility, and I think you and all of your viewers have responsibilities, to try to make this country safer for our families and for each other," Bloomberg told "Meet the Press" host David Gregory during an appearance Sunday. He added, in what sounded very much like a warning: "If 90 percent of the public want something, and their representatives vote against that, common sense says, they are going to have a price to pay for that."

As we have written before, Bloomberg's massive wealth -- he is a billionaire -- and his willingness to spend of it freely on causes which he believes in make him a potent force in electoral politics. He's already proven that power twice -- first in a California House race last November and then in the special House election to fill former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s seat last month.

So, can he pull it off again with this latest slate of ads? Probably not. Here's why.

1. Bloomberg's millions matter more in a House race than a Senate one.  A single individual willing to spend heavily on ads in a House district can have much more impact than that same individual spending that same money in a statewide contest.  You get more bang for your buck, literally, in a House race than in the Senate.

2. It's harder to change politicians' minds on an issue when an election is more than a year off. Bloomberg's successes in House races were built on timing; his super PAC, which is called Independence USA PAC, went up with a heavy barrage of ads as most voters in each race were paying attention. While Bloomberg is up to something else here -- he is trying to influence senators' votes, not win votes for their opponents -- timing still matters a great deal in politics and it's hard to see how $12 million spent in March of an off-year will have a tremendous persuasive effect on the incumbents.

3. Many of the Senators that Bloomberg is targeting have an easy out if -- and, per point number two above, that's a big "if" -- their constituents start to complain about their stance on background checks.  Take Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat up for re-election in 2014 and a target of the Bloomberg ads. If the ads become an issue, Pryor will make sure voters in the Razorback State know the commercials are being funded by the mayor of New York City who, among other things, wants to restrict peoples' right to smoke and drink big, sugary sodas. Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, used just that pushback during his own appearance on "Meet" Sunday. "He can't spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public," said LaPierre. "They don't want him in their restaurants, they don't want him in their homes."

Bloomberg's wealth allows him to the luxury of fighting political battles others might not. And his track record -- and skilled team of campaign operatives -- make him formidable.

But, there's plenty of reason to think that Bloomberg may be charging at a windmill with this latest round of ads.  The funny thing? He doesn't seem to care -- which is why win or lose in this fight, he remains one of the most compelling actors in the political world.

Fixbits:

The Supreme Court may opt for caution over boldness headed into this week's historic arguments over same-sex marriage.

Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit to Iraq.

The Senate passed its first budget blueprint in four years on Saturday.

2010 nominee Alex Sink (D) says she's unlikely to run for governor of Florida in 2014. That's good news for Charlie Crist (D).

LaPierre said Bloomberg's trying to "buy America."

The backlog in claims at the VA will end by 2015, says Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Vice President Biden said the Republican Party is leaderless.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) will have an announcement on his political future on Tuesday.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sounded optimistic about immigration reform.

Mark Zuckerberg's also interested in immigration reform.

Mark Sanford and Curtis Bostic will debate on April 1.

Don't send kids to jail for drug crimes, argued Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Must-reads:

"As Obama signs sequestration cuts, his economic goals are at risk" -- Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

"Republicans today can learn lessons from the Democrats’ past. But will they?" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

"White House’s outreach is yielding modest benefits, lawmakers say" -- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

"NRA, Joe Manchin in talks on background checks" -- Manu Raju and John Bresnahan, Politico

"Tight-knit Georgia Republican delegation starts to fray over Senate race" -- Russell Berman, The Hill

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Sean Sullivan · March 24, 2013