Pro-Obama group will go after Democrats on guns

Sen. Max Baucus, (D-Mont.) is one of several Democratic lawmakers who will be targeted by Organizing for Action for their opposition to gun control legislation.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
<i>This post has been updated, as indicated below.</i>

WASHINGTON — The nonprofit advocacy group backing President Obama’s second-term agenda plans to mobilize constituents against the U.S. senators who on Wednesday helped defeat a measure to expand background checks – including four members of the president’s own party.

Jon Carson, executive director of Organizing for Action, told the Los Angeles Times / Tribune Washington Bureau on Thursday that the group will train its resources against the 45 senators who opposed the legislation, including Democrats Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

“What is happening right now is the reason that OFA needs to be here: to harness the energy and determination of people,” Carson said. “I think everyone would agree that the American people are on our side on this.... We need to show that the 90% on our side have staying power.”

“This is one of those moments where we have to prove that in the face of a setback we’re not backing down,” he added. “That’s the calculation that some senators were mistaken on.... The consequences they’re going to have to face are a bunch of angry constituents who are going to keep the issue alive.”

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Carson said Organizing for Action will also demonstrate support for those who backed the measure, including the Republican co-sponsor, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania.

“Our volunteers are ready to show Pat Toomey how much they appreciate his leadership,” he said.

The group plans to launch sustained campaigns in which constituents will call and tweet lawmakers, write letters to the editor and hold local events spotlighting their support for gun control. Its next major effort comes Saturday, when supporters are organizing rallies and other events in the states of key senators.

Organizing for Action’s potential to affect the legislative process remains unclear. The advocacy group made the background-check measure its top priority after launching in late January, running online ads and organizing events across the country with victims of gun violence, only to see it go down to defeat.

[Updated, 1:38 p.m. April 18: The response from Democratic senators that OFA plans to target was muted.

“Max’s job is to represent Montanans, so the only thing that influences his decisions is what is right for Montana,” said Baucus spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue.]

Organizing for Action’s decision to cross party lines in its advocacy will test the unorthodox path being chartered by the organization, which was built on the infrastructure of Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.

The president’s move to preserve a power base outside of the Democratic National Committee triggered no small amount of anxiety within the party, with some activists fearing Organizing for Action will pull needed resources and energy away from the official party committees.

Obama plans to do robust fundraising for those committees this year, and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has said she believes Organizing for Action will help keep volunteers engaged to the benefit of the party.

Still, the group’s decision to pressure Democrats over their opposition to the background check measure could exacerbate tensions. Organizing for Action does not engage in electoral politics, but its attacks on the gun bill could put lawmakers on the defensive. Among the four who voted against the legislation, all but Heitkamp are up for reelection in 2014.

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In making the move, the nonprofit is following the lead of the president, who on Wednesday noted that the measure had gone down in part because of Democratic opposition.

“It came down to politics — the worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections,” Obama said during an angry address in the Rose Garden, where he was accompanied by families from Newtown, Conn. “They worried that the gun lobby would spend a lot of money and paint them as anti-2nd Amendment. And obviously, a lot of Republicans had that fear, but Democrats had that fear too. And so they caved to the pressure, and they started looking for an excuse — any excuse — to vote ‘no.’”

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