With parents of the young Newtown victims providing emotional reminders of the shooting for lawmakers Wednesday, one of their most high-profile political allies, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), adopted sharper tactics, urging thousands of his city’s top political donors to withhold donations from four Senate Democrats who voted against the gun bill.
In a letter to more than 1,000 donors, Bloomberg called out the four Democrats — Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.). “Instead of rising above politics to pass a law that would save lives,” he wrote, the four senators “sided with a gun lobby increasingly out of touch with Americans’ priorities.”
“The next time these four Senators want you to support them with donations to their campaigns, tell them you cannot,” Bloomberg wrote.
By asking campaign donors to withhold funds, the deep-pocketed mayor went against the will of his congressional Democratic allies, who tried but failed to secure enough GOP support for the gun bill and have warned that public criticism of vulnerable Democrats who voted against the bill will result in Republican gains and less of a chance to enact new gun laws.
Since the bill’s defeat in April, Bloomberg’s anti-gun group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars targeting senators of both parties for voting against the measure. A group founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) — who was severely wounded in a January 2011 shooting — also has raised millions of dollars as it airs radio and television ads.
Begich and Pryor face difficult races next year, while Heitkamp is a newly elected freshman and will not face reelection until 2018. Baucus has announced plans to retire. Spokesmen for Begich, Heitkamp and Pryor declined to comment, while a Baucus spokeswoman said that “campaign contributions have never and will never influence Senator Baucus’s decisions on any legislation.”
But Democratic control of the Senate is tenuous. Republicans are likely to need at least a five-seat gain to draw even or claim the majority, depending on how a pair of special elections this summer and fall play out. But the GOP has good chances of picking up open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia, and the outcomes of races in the targeted states of Alaska and Arkansas will be critical to control of the Senate in 2015.