Obama backers aim to outflank NRA on gun control

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supporters of President

Barack Obama's gun-control proposals are planning a methodical,

state-by-state campaign

to try to persuade key lawmakers that it's in their political

interest to back his sweeping effort to crack down on firearms

and ammunition sales and expand criminal background checks.

To succeed will require overturning two decades of conventional wisdom that gun control is bad politics.

The National Rifle Association is confident

that argument won't sell. But with polls showing majorities supporting

new gun

laws a month after the Connecticut shooting deaths of 20

schoolchildren and six adults, gun-control activists say the political

calculus has changed. Their goal in coming weeks is to convince

lawmakers of that, too, and to counter the NRA's proven ability

to mobilize voters against any proposals limiting access to guns.

The gun-control advocates are focused first

on the Senate, which is expected to act before the House on Obama's gun

proposals.

How Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., proceeds will

depend in part on what he hears from a handful of Democrats in

more conservative states where voters favor gun rights. These

include some who are eyeing re-election fights in 2014, such

as Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus of

Montana.

"We need to tell our members of Congress

that they've got to stand up for sensible gun laws, and if they do that,

we will

stand up for them, and if they don't we will stand up for whoever

runs against them," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told

the U.S. Conference of Mayors Friday. "Because that's exactly what

the NRA is trying to do."

Bloomberg's group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is among a coalition of some 50 labor unions, advocacy groups and others that

have been meeting since before Christmas to plot strategy, in loose coordination with the White House, according to people

involved.

Just hours after Obama rolled out his gun

proposals on Wednesday, the group gathered at the headquarters of the

National Education

Association to game out their plans. As of Friday, voters' calls

to Reid's office were running two-to-one against Obama's

proposals, a Reid aide said.

Never far from such Democrats' minds is what

happened in 1994, when the party suffered widespread election losses

after backing

President Bill Clinton's crime bill featuring a ban on assault

weapons. Clinton and others credited the NRA's campaigning

with a big role in those Democrats' defeats. And when the assault

weapons ban came up for congressional renewal in 2004, it

failed.

The goal of gun-control supporters will be to convince Democrats like Pryor, Begich and Baucus through phone calls, appearances

at town hall meetings, print and TV ads and other means that voters in their state will support them if they back Obama's

plans.

One group involved, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, ran print ads in North Dakota newspapers criticizing newly elected

Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp after she expressed doubts about Obama's proposals.

Activists have also identified a few Senate

Republicans they hope to sway, including Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan

Collins

of Maine. In the House, they're focused on 35 to 40 Republicans in

suburban areas or districts carried by Obama, where voters

might be more supportive of gun-control measures.

"We have a million grass-roots supporters who have sent almost 200,000 emails to Congress, tens of thousands of phone calls

and are ready to go to town hall meetings and camp out if they have to," said Mark Glaze, director of the mayors group. He

said of lawmakers: "In the end I'm confident that enough of them will look past the NRA's $2,000 contribution and do what

the public is demanding."

But the NRA, which claims some 4 million

members, has already activated its base, issuing a fiery appeal this

week in which

Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre warned backers: "It's

about banning your guns, PERIOD! ... I warned you this day was

coming and now it's here. This is the fight of the century."

As publicity spreads about Obama's proposals

the NRA has been adding about 8,000 members a day, according to the

group's president,

David Keene. The NRA grades lawmakers on votes and has had

apparent success in swaying congressional debates for years.

"We support the folks who've helped us in

the past, and we remind them that we're also interested in what they do

today and

tomorrow," Keene said. "I'm convinced that once this thing gets

debated the folks who've been with us in the past are probably

going to be with us in the future."

Obama's call for an assault weapons ban is a particularly heavy lift, but backers are more optimistic about increased background

checks, which were favored by 84 percent in an Associated Press-GfK poll this week.

Supporters hope those kinds of poll numbers

will help move lawmakers to buck history and the NRA and vote in favor

of gun-control

bills.

"We definitely have our work cut out for us.

The math's not with us right now in terms of the votes," said Andy

Pelosi, president

of Gun Free Kids. "It's going to be difficult, but I am

optimistic. I think the tone in the country is much, much different,

and you can't underestimate that."