WASHINGTON — Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan used to have an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. But Thursday, he led a caravan of gun control activists to Mitch McConnell’s hometown to try to hector the Senate majority leader to pass new gun laws.
“There’s just an accumulation of grief that has really taken hold now,” Ryan, who briefly suspended his 2020 presidential campaign after last weekend’s mass shooting in his state, told NBC News.
Like several other Democrats running for president who were once more conservative on guns, Ryan said his thinking evolved as the NRA refused to budge in the wake of mass shooting after mass shooting. After the Las Vegas massacre, he counted up all the money the NRA had given him over the years and donated it to gun control organizations. He now has an “F” rating from the group.
“I’m watching this unfold in this country and my votes slowly started to change,” he said.
There are now 24 Democrats running for president, each trying to stand out from the next in one way or another — but not on guns. The biggest presidential field in history is also the most united ever in favor of gun control, a major break from the past made possible by the shifting politics around guns in America, Democrats and advocates say.
“If anything, they’re outmuscling each other to see who can have the most aggressive platform on gun safety,” John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said. “And that’s a sign of the real changing political calculus on this issue.”
“In Democratic political ads, orange hunting vests are out, and red Moms Demand Action shirts are in,” Feinblatt said, referring to a sister group formed by mothers who push for stricter gun laws.
On the debate stage last month in Detroit and throughout the 2020 primary, moderates are warning that progressives will cost Democrats the election against President Donald Trump by pushing ideas that they say are too radical or politically impossible, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal.
But no one is making that case on guns.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has railed against “socialism,” has also bragged about beating the NRA in Colorado after the Aurora theater shooting and vowed to do the same nationally as president.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who owns guns and comes from a red state where hunting is popular, held a news conference in Washington this week to call on Congress to pass stricter gun laws.
“All of us are sick of politicians offering hopes and prayers and then burying commonsense gun safety laws before we even comforted the victims of the last mass shootings,” Bullock said Wednesday. “We need to acknowledge that the NRA and other extremist groups have a stranglehold on our politics.”
The entire 2020 Democratic presidential field now supports basic gun safety policies such as universal background checks, “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed a threat, and banning assault weapons. On the stump, they all preach strident and urgent opposition to the NRA.
Feinblatt, whose group threw together a presidential candidate forum on guns in Iowa this weekend in response to the string of recent mass shootings, said Democrats have stiffened their spines on guns in recent years.
National Democrats have long supported gun control laws, but in the past would typically qualify that stance with reassurances about their belief in the Second Amendment and respect for the hunting culture.
Hillary Clinton, who grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago, for instance, would tell crowds on the 2008 campaign trail things like, “My dad took me out behind the cottage that my grandfather built on a little lake called Lake Winola outside of Scranton and taught me how to shoot when I was a little girl … It’s part of culture. It’s part of a way of life.”
And former President Barack Obama allowed himself to be photographed firing a shotgun during the gun control debate after the Sandy Hook shooting, explaining, “Up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time.”
John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, famously invited reporters along for a hunting trip in Ohio during which he wielded a 12-gauge shotgun and donned an orange vest over a camouflage jacket.
The former Massachusetts senator was actually an experienced hunter, but the excursion did little to change Kerry’s image as an out-of-touch coastal elitist, with former Vice President Dick Cheney quipping, “The Second Amendment is more than just a photo opportunity.”
“That excursion, whether it was well- or ill-advised, was at least intended to convey the message that he was not anti-hunting,” said Bob Shrum, a veteran Democratic strategist and a top adviser to Kerry’s campaign.
But Shrum said the political landscape has changed since then as mass shootings around the country have personally touched a growing number outside of liberal bubbles.
“I do think the earth has moved,” Shrum said. “I don’t think this is a coastal phenomenon anymore.”
After Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner’s daughter happened to be across the street from the Dayton shooting, he announced support for the assault weapons ban, a reversal of his earlier position.
For decades, guns were seen as a political third-rail for Democrats — a wedge inside the party and a loser outside of it.
But gun safety advocates say the balance of public opinion and electoral pressure might finally be tipping in their favor, although they’ve said as much before only to be disappointed by Congress.
Last year for the first time, gun control groups, with major backing from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s billions, outspent gun rights groups by almost 2-to-1 in the midterm elections. Polls and focus groups show strong support for an assault weapon ban.
Fifteen NRA “A”-rated Republicans were replaced by 15 NRA “F”-rated Democrats, including candidates like Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., a gun violence victim-turned-activist who won the same suburban Atlanta congressional seat that Democrats lost in a $50 million 2017 special election.
And while Congress has been a dead-end on gun safety legislation for years, activists have had better success in the states. So far this year 17 states passed new gun safety measures, including in Republican-led Florida after the Parkland shooting.
Meanwhile, the NRA is riven by internal strife and Trump has offered some rhetorical support for policies like a red flag law — though he’s backtracked on similar comments in the past.
All of this has changed the political calculus for Democrats, as has the departure of rural whites from the Democratic Party, which increasingly draws its strength from urban and suburban areas.
All that makes it unlikely any 2020 Democrat will see an opening to get to the right of the rest of the field on gun control.
“If you want to distinguish yourself by being against these issues,” Shrum said, “I suppose you could go from 2 percent to 0 percent in the polls.”
Elizabeth Warren edges out Joe Biden in Des Moines Register Iowa poll
The poll out Saturday night found Warren was the top choice for the Democratic nomination with 22 percent support among likely caucus-goers, while Biden had the support of 20 percent of respondents. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fell to third with 11 percent.
The poll was conducted of 602 likely Democratic caucus-goers from Sept. 14-18. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The last Register/CNN poll, in June, had Biden leading with 24 percent and Warren in the third spot at 15 percent, slightly behind Bernie Sanders, who came in second with 16 percent support.
While there have been several other recent polls of the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state, the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, conducted by Des Moines-based pollster Ann Selzer, is widely considered to be the most accurate, so its Saturday night releases have become must-watch events for Iowa politicos.
The poll was released after the entire 2020 Democratic presidential field gathered in Des Moines Saturday for the annual Steak Fry, a fundraising event hosted by the local Democratic Party club.
Warren surged 7 points in the poll since the June survey, while Biden lost a bit of ground, putting them neck-and-neck inside the poll’s margin of error.
Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, both slipped significantly, down 5 and 6 percentage points, respectively, leaving Buttigieg at 9 percent, down from 15.
The rest of the field, meanwhile, is mired in the single digits.
California Sen. Kamala Harris held steady at 6 percent, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker gained a couple of points to land at 3 percent, while coming at 2 percent were Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, billionaire Tom Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Everyone else was at 1 percent or below.
Still, just one-in-five likely Democratic caucus-goers said they had already made up their minds so the race remains fluid. Almost two-thirds said they were open to being convinced to support someone else.
“The data in this poll seem to suggest the field is narrowing, but my sense is there’s still opportunity aplenty,” Selzer told the Register. “The leaders aren’t all that strong. The universe is not locked in.”
But the data is unquestionably good news for Warren, who is now both the best-liked candidate in the field (75 percent view her favorably) and the candidate being considered by the most likely caucus-goers (71 percent).
Voters go ‘center-left’ on issues, but not on candidates
WASHINGTON – When it comes to issues and issue agendas, there is good news and bad news for Democrats in 2020 in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
On the good news side of the ledger, there some key issues where voters seem supportive of left-leaning ideas and approaches. The bad news, a leftward-lean does not mean a leftward rush. If Democratic candidates push too hard in the primaries they may find themselves with problems in the general election.
The issue agreements and differences with registered voters and Democratic primary voters are eye-opening and, in some cases, surprising.
One number that jumps out of the data, 58 percent of registered voters in the survey say they support “providing free tuition at state colleges and universities.” That’s lower than the 81 percent of Democratic primary voters who support the idea and there’s a lot of wiggle room in how respondents may have interpreted the question (would it be means-tested?), but it’s still a majority.
And there are a series of issues like that one, where Democrats seem to have registered voters in their corner on topics ranging from immigration and student debt to health care and the environment.
For instance, 67 percent of registered voters and 89 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor allowing young adults who were brought illegally to this country to stay here to attend college. On student debt, 64 percent of registered voters and 82 percent of Democratic primary voters favor forgiving student loans after someone has paid 12.5 percent of their income every year for 15 years.
The two groups are also in agreement on offering a health insurance “public option” for people younger than 65 who want to buy into it, 67 percent and 78 percent favor that idea respectively. And both registered voters and Democratic primary voters favor “shifting the country to 100 percent renewable energy and stopping the use of coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power by the year 2030” – 52 percent and 81 percent support that idea.
Those are numbers that should bring smiles to the faces of Democrats. They show a lot of broad support on some major issues that Democrats say they favor and seem to suggest Democrats are in a good spot to win voters in 2020.
For the record, the data also show that both registered voters and Democratic primary voters oppose building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and oppose eliminating the Affordable Care Act.
But there is another set of numbers in the poll that show the challenges Democrats could face on these same issues if their nominee heads down a path that goes a little further to the left.
On immigration, 64 percent of Democratic primary voters want to give undocumented immigrants government health care, only 36 percent of registered voters want that. When it comes to student debt, 60 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor immediately canceling and forgiving all current student loan debt, but only 41 percent of registered voters support that idea.
A solid 63 percent of Democratic primary voters back a “Medicare for all” single-payer health care system “in which private health insurance would be eliminated” – only 41 percent of registered voters agree. And while 58 percent of Democratic primary voters support an end to the practice of “fracking” for oil and gas production, only 41 percent of registered voters feel the same way.
Those are some wide gaps and the splits show that winning general election support is not just about talking about the right issues (clean energy, fixing student debt), it’s about talking about them in the right way.
The registered voter answers on these questions suggest that the U.S. electorate become a center-left entity in the last few elections, one that is embracing more liberal action on issues such as climate change, health care and college costs.
But these numbers also suggest that the “center-left” is not the “left” and that’s where many Democratic primary voters reside.
The next six to eight months will determine where the Democratic nominee eventually ends up on these issues. And if the party’s nominee moves too far too fast to placate primary voters, he or she may end up standing on uncomfortable ground next November.
A record share of voters dislike Trump personally, but Democrats face challenges of their own
WASHINGTON — As Democratic candidates compete for the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump, the incumbent they hope to oust is more personally disliked than any of his recent predecessors, and half of voters say they’re very uncomfortable with the idea of his re-election.
But the electorate at large also expresses doubts about some of the progressive policies being backed by candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the party’s more moderate frontrunner — Joe Biden — also faces questions about his fitness for the job.
Those are the major findings in the latest release from the September NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which also shows that 46 percent of Americans give Trump credit for what they call an improving economy, the highest share of his presidency.
“The Democrats want a referendum on Trump. The GOP wants a comparative choice. And therein lies the rub,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff and his firm Public Opinion Strategies.
Trump approval stable, but a record share dislike him personally
The poll found Trump’s approval rating at 45 percent among registered voters, virtually unchanged from last month and consistent with where former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton stood in public approval at this point in their presidencies.
But it also showed that Trump faces historically poor personal favorability ratings, even among those who approve of the plans he has pursued in office.
A combined 69 percent of registered voters say they don’t like Trump personally, regardless of their feelings about his policy agenda. A record 50 percent say they dislike him personally and dislike his policies, while another 19 percent say that they dislike him but approve of his policies.
Just 29 percent say they like Trump personally, with 25 percent saying they also approve of his policy agenda and 4 percent saying they disapprove.
On this measure, the high degree of personal dislike for Trump differentiates him from his five most recent predecessors. Majorities of voters said they personally liked Obama, Clinton, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, even though they might disagree vigorously with their political agenda.
In fact, prior to Trump’s presidency, the highest share of voters saying they disliked the president personally — regardless of their views on his policies — was 42 percent for George W. Bush in March 2006, after Hurricane Katrina.
Voters also have higher levels of discomfort about Trump’s re-election than about his main Democratic rivals.
Half of voters — 49 percent — say they’re very uncomfortable with his 2020 candidacy. That’s compared to 41 percent who say the same for Sanders and 33 percent apiece who say the same for Biden or Warren.
But Trump also continues to benefit from the upside of the polarization of the electorate around him, commanding more enthusiasm than his Democratic competitors as well. A quarter of voters (26 percent) say they’re enthusiastic about him, while fewer say they’re enthusiastic about Warren (17 percent), Sanders (13 percent) and Biden (12 percent.)
Some progressive proposals divide Democrats and the electorate at large
Voters overall are supportive of many of the policy goals being discussed by 2020 Democratic candidates, but there are notable exceptions surrounding “Medicare-for-All,” government health care for undocumented immigrants, and complete student loan forgiveness.
Among Democratic primary voters, 64 percent say they support providing government health care to undocumented immigrants, while just 36 percent of all registered voters agree.
A similar share of Democratic voters — 63 percent — support a single payer “Medicare-for-All” style plan, also backed by Warren and Sanders, that would replace the existing private insurance system. Among voters overall, just 41 percent support that idea.
And six-in-10 Democratic voters also back immediate cancellation and forgiveness of all student debt, a position shared by just 41 percent of all voters. Sanders has unveiled a plan to eliminate all $1.6 trillion in student debt, while Warren has proposed the cancellation of up to $50,000 in student debt per person, based on household income.
More moderate Democratic positions on the issues of health care and student loan forgiveness, however, have the backing of wide majorities of both Democratic voters and the general electorate.
Two-thirds of all voters — 67 percent — and 78 percent of Democrats back an optional program that would allow those under 65 to buy into Medicare just like one can currently buy in to private insurance.
A similar share of all voters — 64 percent — support a plan to forgive student debt for those who have paid 12.5% of their income every year for 15 years.
And 58 percent of all voters support a measure to provide free tuition at state colleges and universities.
While some of the most progressive Democratic proposals lack majority support, the poll also found that two of Trump’s signature plans are similarly unpopular with the voting public.
Just 43 percent of all voters support the construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall. And exactly the same share back the elimination of the Affordable Care Act.
Voters raise concerns about Trump and Biden’s fitness for the presidency
While Biden may be the Democratic Party’s current standard-bearer for more moderate — and popular — policy proposals, a significant share of Americans in the poll say they’re losing confidence in his ability to lead the country.
A third of voters overall — 36 percent — say they’ve lost confidence in Biden in recent weeks, a time period that included a debate performance described as shaky by his critics. Just eight percent say they’ve grown more confident in him.
The same share — 36 percent — say they have become less confident in recent weeks in Trump’s ability to lead, with 17 percent saying they’ve become more confident.
Those who have lost confidence in the former vice president cited his debate performance, his age and what they say is an over-reliance on Obama’s legacy in making his own case for the job.
“Overall, I like Joe Biden a lot, but I think his performance at the debate gave me the feeling that he might be a little bit past his prime for the position,” said one male Democratic respondent from New York.
A white female Democrat from Illinois put it more bluntly.
“Basically he’s an old white man who I don’t think is going to help our country advance,” she said. “Because our country is not just a bunch of white people anymore.”
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Sept. 13-16. The margin of error for all adults is +/- 3.27 percentage points.
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