Senate’s Gun-Control Rebels: 16-2

Photograph by Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

Members of Newtown, Ct. clergy set up more than 3,300 grave markers on the Mall during a 24-hour vigil to support the gun violence legislation.

What do Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Roger Wicker of Mississippi have in common?

The same thing that Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska have in common.

They bucked their parties today in allowing gun-control legislation to advance in the Senate.

The difference is that more Republicans sided with Ayotte and Wicker today in voting yes: 14 others.

No other Democrats sided with Pryor or Begich in voting no.

The vote, the first hard measure of congressional sentiment since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, that claimed the lives of 20 first-grade children and six educators  on Dec. 14, was 68-31. The Senate needed at least 60 votes to advance the legislation to debate. The Democrats who rule the Senate, with 53 Democratic seats and two caucus-supporting independents, couldn’t have done this today without Republican support.

The proponents of legislation that is likely to center around a bipartisan agreement for more background checks for gun-buyers crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania drew support from Republicans such as John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as well as Mark Kirk of Illinois, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Democrats Pryor and Begich  probably had something else on their minds today: They both face re-election in 2014.

There is a large cast of Republicans who opposed this vote who also have elections on their minds as well, including three for whom the 2016 bell may be ringing: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a newcomer to Washington, already is making the rounds of Republican primary states for 2016. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, another prospect for the party’s 2016 presidential sweepstakes, also voted no. So did Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul, who has Iowa on his mind. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, focused on his 2014 re-election campaign, voted no as well — after initially threatening a filibuster fight.

In the end, it could serve the Democrats from Arkansas and Alaska who voted against this simple vote to advance a bill to debate with their voters back home.

It’s also possible that the Republicans with eyes on ’16 who voted no will be thanked for that in their party’s caucuses and primaries. Yet, it’s less certain how it may play among a general electorate, whom polls show supporting more thorough background checks for gun-buyers in the aftermath of one of the worst shootings in modern American history by a margin of 9-1.

Nine to one, sort of like 16-2 — 16 who also can read the polls.

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