If the fight over last month's failed gun bill in the Senate is over, someone forgot to tell the advocacy groups on both sides of the issue who have poured money into warring print and television ads in the last week over Sen. Max Baucus's vote.
The six-term Montana lawmaker was one of four Democrats to vote against the the Manchin-Toomey amendment that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. The measure was thought to be lawmakers' best and only shot at significant gun control legislation in the wake of last year's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. And because of Baucus's expected reelection battle in red-state Montana, advocates pushing the Manchin amendment didn't consider his vote in play.
But after Baucus announced last Tuesday to the surprise of Washington that he would not seek reelection in 2014, advocates on both sides of the gun control battle have flooded Montana with ads — a sign that they believe the Democrat, now free from the weight of reelection, could switch his vote on the bill that Sen. Joe Manchin has promised to somehow revive on the floor of the Senate.
The latest ad, from the national liberal group Progressive Change Campaign Committee, hit the airwaves Wednesday morning on broadcast and cable channels in major Montana media markets — Helena, Missoula, and Billings — and on cable in Washington, D.C. The $50,000 ad buy will run for one week.
The 30-second spot, embedded below, features a Claire Kelly, a gun-owning Montana voter, who urges Baucus to change his vote, citing a poll by the Michael Bloomberg-headed gun control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, that shows 79 percent of Montanans support background checks for gun sales.
"Senator Baucus, now that you're retiring, please put Montana first," says Kelly in the ad, which was featured Tuesday night on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show.
The TV buy follows a $100,000 print campaign by the same group. A full-page advertisement condemning Baucus's vote on the Manchin bill — "Senator, Baucus, it was WRONG to vote 'no' on stopping gun violence" — ran in 20 Montana newspapers last week.
But gun control groups aren't alone in targeting Baucus. The National Rifle Association, the leading gun lobby in Washington, released a full-page ad in Montana newspapers thanking Baucus for his no-vote. "You're freedom is under attack...but Senator Max Baucus is fighting back," the ad reads. "Call Senator Baucus. Thank him for putting Montanans first."
That the NRA piped up to thank the Democrat for his vote is a sign that Baucus's vote is considered vulnerable to change, and that his position in the gun control fight moving forward will be closely watched by advocates on either side if the Manchin bill returns, as the West Virginia senator has promised.
As one Democratic political operative told BuzzFeed last month, "If you want background checks, lock on to Max Baucus and do not let go."
But Baucus — a longstanding ally of the NRA with an "A+" rating — would not go easy. He was "decidedly uninterested" in the bill when the Gabby Giffords-headed group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, met with him in advance of the Senate vote last month. And in a statement on his decision to vote "no" on the bill, Baucus said, "Montanans have told me loud and clear that they oppose any new gun controls. And I very much respect that — I agree."
It is also unclear whether all the talk about re-upping the gun control legislation will be matched with serious action, and whether Senate leadership would be willing to engage in yet another fight over the contentious issue.
PCCC spokesman Matt Wall, though, said the group will continue to focus on Baucus, tapping into its one million members — 3,300 of whom live in Montana — to continue the campaign with online fundraising. And Adam Green, the PAC's co-founder, made clear in a statement that Baucus's vote will be the target of their efforts.
"Another vote will happen in the Senate. Max Baucus needs to choose whether he stands with the overwhelming majority of Montanans who support background checks or the gun manufacturers that profit by selling guns to criminals," Green said.