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July 18, 2011, 10:40 a.m.

Neither busi­ness­man Mike McWhert­er (D) “nor” Knoxville May­or Bill Haslam (R) “have suc­ceeded in se­cur­ing” an en­dorse­ment from the NRA.

Want More On This Race? Check out the Hot­line Dash­board for a com­pre­hens­ive run­down of this race, in­clud­ing stor­ies, polls, ads, FEC num­bers, and more!

The org “gave Haslam a grade of B- and McWhert­er a C-.” Haslam “didn’t join the NRA un­til after he entered” the race. McWhert­er “lost points with some ad­voc­ates for his call to change a state law al­low­ing people with hand­gun per­mits to be armed in late-night bars” (AP, 10/7).

NRA spokes­per­son Rachel Par­sons “said Haslam was run­ning on ‘a pro-Second Amend­ment plat­form,’ but as may­or of Knoxville didn’t take a strong stand sup­port­ing the res­taur­ant carry le­gis­la­tion.” The NRA “de­cided not to en­dorse McWhert­er based on a ques­tion­naire he filled out.”

Vander­bilt Univ. prof. John Geer: “If it was close, then they prob­ably would have to bite the bul­let and en­dorse Haslam” (McWhirter, Wall Street Journ­al, 10/6).

Al­right, Let’s Get This Show On The Road!

McWhert­er “said” his TV ad cam­paign launches statewide 10/7, “co­in­cid­ing with to­night’s de­bate in Knoxville that will be tele­vised on WMC-TV Chan­nel 5 in Mem­ph­is.”

McWhert­er “would not say what the ads fo­cus on but said his TV ads will run through” the 11/2 elec­tion. He “con­ceded the air­waves to Haslam’s much-bet­ter-fun­ded cam­paign since a week or so” after the 8/5 primary elec­tions “but he said that’s about to end.”

McWhert­er: “I think right now I’m a little be­hind my op­pon­ent in this race but I’ve mar­shaled my re­sources all the way through Au­gust and Septem­ber and I’m get­ting ready to come out with my me­dia cam­paign start­ing to­mor­row in time for early vot­ing. I think you’re go­ing to see this race tight­en up. Be­cause after my op­pon­ent has spent $14 mil­lion, I think there’s not much more he can say about him­self. I’m get­ting ready to come for­ward; I feel really good about where I am. I’ve spent a lot of time in our rur­al areas of the state and now I’ll be fo­cus­ing a lot of time in the urb­an areas the rest of this month.”

Haslam: “We feel very good about where we are right now. But we’re not go­ing to let up” (Lock­er, Mem­ph­is Com­mer­cial Ap­peal, 10/7).

Sub­mar­ine Sand­wiched

Nashville Scene’s Woods writes that McWhert­er “re­vealed his cam­paign’s seem­ing som­no­lence ac­tu­ally is a clev­er, rarely-be­fore-tried” strategy. McWhert­er: “Our slo­gan in this cam­paign has al­ways been to run si­lent and to run deep. It’s from an old World War II movie. It’s like sub­mar­ines. You run si­lent. You run deep. You de­vel­op your pro­gram and then you sur­face and then it’s game on.”

There was “no reas­on to run ads earli­er, he says, be­cause no one would’ve paid at­ten­tion to them.” McWhert­er: “John Q. Pub­lic and Jane Q. Pub­lic do not fo­cus on this race un­til Oc­to­ber, and then it’s a mad scramble to get your mes­sage out. … They’ve got to make a choice. Stra­tegic­ally, we’ve had our plan and we’ve worked it right on through, and I think we’re right on tar­get for where we need to be in this race.”

While McWhert­er “was wait­ing on voters to pay at­ten­tion, more than half of them were busy mak­ing up their minds.” To win now, McWhert­er “would have to per­suade not only un­de­cided voters but a sig­ni­fic­ant per­cent­age of those who’ve already chosen their guy.”

McWhert­er: “My fo­cus is on help­ing the work­ing fam­il­ies of this state. And that is not Bill Haslam’s agenda. All he talks about is cut­ting the state budget. That’s all he talks about. … He says, ‘I’m go­ing to cut this budget and I’m go­ing to bal­ance it.’ Well, what kind of mes­sage is that for the work­ing fam­il­ies of Ten­ness­ee? I think it’s none” (10/7).

On gun con­trol, Demo­crats re­main para­lyzed by the fear of los­ing voters whom they have already lost.

After the Au­rora, Colo., mas­sacre last week, Pres­id­ent Obama waited un­til this Wed­nes­day to raise the is­sue at all — and even then stopped short of re­af­firm­ing his pre­vi­ous sup­port for restor­ing the as­sault-weapons ban passed un­der Bill Clin­ton. And this week, when sev­er­al Demo­crat­ic le­gis­lat­ors from coastal states urged “com­mon­sense gun-safety re­forms,” the party’s con­gres­sion­al lead­er­ship was con­spicu­ously si­lent.

All of that re­flects the hardened con­ven­tion­al wis­dom among Demo­crats that gun con­trol is a los­ing is­sue, a credo that dates back to Al Gore’s de­feat in 2000. Un­ques­tion­ably, gun con­trol is a dif­fi­cult polit­ic­al is­sue that splits the coun­try al­most in half. And polls leave no doubt that pub­lic sup­port for gun con­trol has waned since Clin­ton’s time.

But it’s a myth that there is no longer any audi­ence for gun con­trol. It is, in fact, al­most ex­actly the same audi­ence that Pres­id­ent Obama is pur­su­ing with vir­tu­ally everything else he does. Gun con­trol is deeply un­pop­u­lar with the por­tions of the white elect­or­ate most hos­tile to Obama any­way: blue-col­lar whites and col­lege-edu­cated white men. But among the voters who might ac­tu­ally vote for Obama (par­tic­u­larly minor­it­ies and col­lege-edu­cated white wo­men), re­stric­tions on gun own­er­ship still at­tract sol­id ma­jor­ity sup­port.

Dur­ing the 1990s, when Clin­ton won two pitched battles with the Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation (passing the as­sault-weapons ban and the Brady bill re­quir­ing back­ground checks for hand­gun pur­chases), about three-fifths of Amer­ic­ans in Pew Re­search Cen­ter polls con­sist­ently said that it was more im­port­ant to con­trol gun own­er­ship than to pro­tect gun rights. That sen­ti­ment was dur­able enough that George W. Bush in 2000 did not pro­pose re­peal­ing Clin­ton’s as­sault-weapons ban; as pres­id­ent, he even nom­in­ally en­dorsed ex­tend­ing it (al­though Bush didn’t ob­ject when con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans let it lapse).

Sup­port for gun con­trol in Pew’s polls skid­ded only after Obama took of­fice; in an April 2012 sur­vey, 49 per­cent of adults said that it was most im­port­ant to pro­tect gun rights, while 45 per­cent placed great­er pri­or­ity on con­trolling gun own­er­ship. (Some oth­er re­cent na­tion­al sur­veys find a slight tilt to­ward tough­en­ing gun laws.) One reas­on pub­lic sup­port for gun con­trol has prob­ably de­clined is be­cause no na­tion­al lead­er since Clin­ton and Gore has made the case for it. But the evid­ence sug­gests that the broad­er back­lash against gov­ern­ment act­iv­ism un­der Obama has also fueled the res­ist­ance. Pew data show that the sharpest move­ment away from gun con­trol since 2000 has come among the same groups most dis­en­chanted with Obama’s over­all agenda: white men with col­lege de­grees, and white men and wo­men without them. Each of those groups now mostly pri­or­it­izes gun rights.

Sup­port for gun con­trol has also slipped some­what since 2000 among minor­it­ies and col­lege-edu­cated white wo­men, but in Pew’s April sur­vey, three-fifths in both groups still pri­or­it­ized lim­its on own­er­ship. Not co­in­cid­ent­ally, those are pre­cisely the groups most open to act­iv­ist gov­ern­ment and Obama him­self.

At­ti­tudes to­ward guns now closely track views on oth­er is­sues di­vid­ing the two parties. In Pew’s April sur­vey, gun-con­trol op­pon­ents were much more likely than sup­port­ers to re­ject the idea that gov­ern­ment should spend more to help the needy, and to say that im­mig­rants threaten tra­di­tion­al Amer­ic­an cus­toms and val­ues. Four-fifths of self-de­scribed tea party sup­port­ers stressed gun rights over gun con­trol, while a 54 per­cent ma­jor­ity of every­one else made the op­pos­ite choice.

What this means is that the vast ma­jor­ity of voters who dis­like gun con­trol have so many oth­er reas­ons to op­pose Obama that they are un­likely to switch just be­cause he hol­sters this one is­sue. Con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats face the same dy­nam­ic. One reas­on Demo­crats aban­doned gun con­trol is be­cause they con­cluded that it bled them rur­al- and blue-col­lar seats dur­ing the 1994 GOP land­slide. But after slowly re­cap­tur­ing some of those seats, Demo­crats saw al­most all of them wash away again in a 2010 GOP tor­rent swelled not by guns but the broad­er re­coil from Obama’s act­iv­ism.

If there is a road back to a Demo­crat­ic con­gres­sion­al ma­jor­ity, it al­most cer­tainly will not run through such down­scale dis­tricts; rather, it will go through the leafy sub­urb­an seats where gun con­trol re­tains more back­ing. Like­wise, if Obama sur­vives in Novem­ber, it will largely be be­cause he main­tained sup­port among minor­it­ies and up­scale wo­men — not be­cause he re­cap­tured the blue-col­lar whites stam­ped­ing away from him.

Gun con­trol is a high-risk is­sue be­cause half of the elect­or­ate pas­sion­ately op­poses it. Yet it is the half that Demo­crats have little chance of reach­ing. Since Clin­ton’s era, al­most all Re­pub­lic­ans, even those from up­scale places still open to re­stric­tions, have bowed to the ma­jor­ity po­s­i­tion on guns among their core sup­port­ers. However, on gun con­trol, al­most uniquely for a so­cial is­sue, the pres­id­ent and most con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats have el­ev­ated the pri­or­it­ies of voters out­side of their co­ali­tion over the pref­er­ences of those with­in it. In polit­ics, as in com­bat, it isn’t much of a fight when one side uni­lat­er­ally dis­arms. 

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