If that fails, they said, their long-term strategy is to help elect new ones.
“They clearly had a calculation that the other side had more passion and staying power. We’re going to show them that they’re wrong,” said Jon Carson, executive director of Organizing for Action, which advocates for President Obama’s policy agenda but says it will not get involved in elections.
But the White House and its allies also conceded that they see no easy path ahead after Wednesday’s defeat in the Senate, where 46 senators voted to block a compromise that would have extended background checks to all commercial gun sales.
“There aren’t any immediate options,” said Matt Bennett, a senior vice president at Third Way, a centrist think tank that works with the White House on gun issues. “All of us are going to be searching for some kind of element that could change the dynamic enough to attract that handful of votes that we need, and we don’t know what that is yet.”
On Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) pulled the gun bill, saying the Senate would “take a pause” and asserting that “this fight is just beginning.”
For now, however, the fight will continue outside of Washington.
At the White House, officials said Obama and Vice President Biden will stay vocal on the issue and do whatever they can administratively. During a conference call Thursday, Biden strategized with gun-control advocates over how to create a grass-roots movement more powerful than the National Rifle Association.
Organzing for Action, which grew out of Obama’s reelection campaign, is planning dozens of events this weekend in key states and is urging its network of supporters to pepper senators’ offices with letters, tweets and calls.
Meanwhile, Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group started by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, is preparing to air television advertisements thanking four senators — Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) — who voted for background checks.
The Giffords group also plans to air ads against senators who voted no. “It’s a target-rich environment,” Kelly told reporters.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said, “The NRA doesn’t operate in a vacuum any longer, and we’re going to see that on the airwaves over the next several months. We don’t have to wait until 2014 to litigate this vote.”
Polls show nine in 10 Americans support expanded background checks, but most of the opposing senators face no immediate political threat. Many up for reelection in 2014 are entrenched incumbents in ruby-red states. And those who come from more moderate states where their votes might harm them — such as Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire and Arizona — won’t stand for reelection until 2016 or 2018.