WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Pryor broke ground at an expanded Remington ammunition factory in his home state of Arkansas Thursday — a gun-friendly move by a gun-friendly Democrat.
That's not normally something that would make much news: Even ardent Democrats in Arkansas are firmly supportive of gun rights. But with pro-gun control Democrats coming to his aid, Pryor's 2014 race highlights the tension between ideological purity and electoral realities.
The event sent a strange and unpredictable ripple through national Democratic politics, and exposed how the fight against gun violence is already proving to be awkward for Democrats in the 2014 cycle.
Pryor is getting help from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York Democrat who wants to see him reelected over the whims of people like New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is trying to punish Pryor and other Democrats who didn't support gun control legislation after the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings.
Bloomberg's group ran TV ads against Pryor after he voted against the Manchin-Toomey background check bill, helping to doom President Barack Obama's goal of gun control legislation in his second term.
It's an unusual backdrop for the run-up to the next election, which will see gun control advocates pushing to get their goals onto the agenda by spending money in races across the country, while Democrats — natural allies of the gun control side — fight to hold onto a majority in the Senate by waging battle in the gun-friendly red states. Gun control advocates sniping at allies like Gillibrand, and Democrats like Gillibrand urging gun control advocates to leave Democrats like Pryor alone, will be likely be par for the course.
Here's the weird thing: The gun control side is OK with Pryor going to the factory, but they're mad at Gillibrand for helping Pryor raise money.
"I wouldn't say he has to diss the industry," said one prominent gun control advocate. "We're fine with guns and commerce."
Gillibrand, meanwhile, says she doesn't necessarily support Pryor's visit to the Remington plant — which manufactures ammo used in so-called assault weapons — but does think Pryor should be reelected to Congress over the objections of Bloomberg and his allies. She sent a fundraising email to her supporters Wednesday calling for them to send money to Pryor, a conservative Democrat facing an uphill climb for reelection next year.
"Sen. Gillibrand believes that it is important to the future of our country to retain a Democratic majority in the Senate," Glen Caplin, Gillibrand's Senate spokesperson, said. "And she believes it's important to send Mark Pryor back to the Senate. We're not going to agree on every issue with Sen. Pryor, just like she doesn't agree on every issue with the rest of her colleagues on every issue, and even the president."
Gillibrand supporters note Pryor backed the idea of cracking down on gun trafficking, which was the focus of a bill Gillibrand introduced during the Senate gun debate, which eventually failed to produce any meaningful legislation.
The gun control advocates just don't understand what Gillibrand is up to in Arkansas.
"Now that she styles herself a major gun control advocate, her time might be better spent raising money for the senate women from red states who voted for the background check bill — Hagan, Shaheen and Landrieu — than the guy who didn't," the advocate said.
A Gillibrand supporter noted the New York Senator sent a fundraising email mentioning the three women in June.
None of the national controversy appeared to phase Pryor at the Remington plant Thursday.
"I have a Remington shotgun and I use Remington shells," Pryor said at the groundbreaking.