According to a source familiar with ongoing discussions, Toomey has emerged as an alternative to GOP Senator Tom Coburn, who is also being aggressively courted by Democrats, because of his gun credentials. As I reported here the other day, Dems have made Coburn an offer that would exempt some sales from record keeping, but Coburn is still refusing to back the proposal unless it nixes new record keeping completely.
Getting Toomey’s support for the proposal would be a big step forward, and make passage significantly more likely. Dems want an additional Republican co-sponsor of the bill (along with Mark Kirk), because that would likely make it easier for red state Dem holdouts and a handful of moderate Republicans to support the proposal. If it passed the Senate with some bipartisan support, that could conceivably force a vote in the House.
The source tells me that Toomey is less focused on record keeping as a problem than Coburn is, though it’s far from clear whether Toomey has reached any conclusions about what he can and can’t support. Toomey’s office would not confirm this. (Politico confirms that the two offices have exchanged draft proposals, but no details are available.)
Manchin is conducting the talks with Toomey — and Chuck Schumer is not part of the talks at all — because it would be far easier for any Republican to reach a deal with Manchin than with Schumer.
Toomey is also an interesting target for Dems for several other reasons. For one thing, he is a high profile conservative who has at times proven willing to be ideologically flexible in the quest for deals with Dems (he was the face of the GOP offer of new revenues during the 2011 supercommittee talks). For another, he comes from a bluish state, which could make him more amenable to compromise.
Also, Democrats see a certain type of House Republican — GOPers who represent suburban districts, such as those around Philadelphia — as potentially gettable on background checks. Support from Toomey — who also needs to worry about the Philly suburbs — could conceivably make it easier to win over such Republicans.
Ultimately, what this shows is that some Republicans are still looking for a way to support expanding background checks. So, no, the proposal is not quite dead yet.