Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The NRA in Red and Blue

It's been much commented on that there are few, if any, "Conservative Democrats" around any more. That's certainly true here in North Carolina. Given the choice between a conservative Democrat and a conservative Republican, conservative voters here mostly voted Red. Old ties of party loyalty proved themselves too weak to resist the tendency toward ideological purity in the modern Conservative movement.

That wasn't so as recently as the Clinton administration, but the 1994 congressional election that swept Newt Gingrich into power for the first time was also marked by a historic electoral carnage among conservative and moderate Democrats—particularly in the South. And it was that election, more than any other, that put the fear of the National Rifle Association into the hearts of conservative Democrats.

Ever since, Democrats in conservative areas have generally been too afraid of the NRA to back any kind of gun control measure, no matter how weak. And nationally, the Democratic Party has been so afraid of losing its few remaining conservative and moderate members that there has not been a strong push back against the NRA.

But the conservative triumph in the South could mean less influence for the NRA.

Consider this: North Carolina was a swing state in the latest Presidential election, but farther down the ticket, Republicans solidified their hold on electoral power here. The US Congressional delegation, and the state Senate and House, are now solidly red. Congressional districts have been so successfully gerrymandered that Democrats are crowded into a few "ghettos" of large urban areas, or weirdly shaped metro corridors, and their actual proportional strength among voters has been effectively hidden.

What this means is that here in North Carolina there are very few conservative or moderate Democrats in Congress left to fear the NRA. The remaining Democrats are in safely Blue metro/suburban districts.

The effect of this, oddly enough, may be to free up Democrats nationally. In part because of demographic changes elsewhere in the country, the party has managed to stay competitive nationally even though it has mostly lost the South. It has won two Presidential contests, and held on to a majority in the U.S. Senate. Florida and northern Virgina excepted, the swing states are now in the Rust Belt and the West, not the South.

I know this sounds counterintuitive, but the fact that the South is out of play means that the Blue side has less to fear on the issue of gun control. As its constituents in the West, Midwest, and Northeast are increasingly not as interested in pro-gun policies as the old conservative Southern Democrats were, the party can now more safely begin to flout the NRA.

With the recent shock of the killings in Connecticut, Democrats nationally may wake up and find they don't have as much to fear from the NRA as they once did. Maybe they'll stop pulling their punches on gun control for the first time since 1994.

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