In it, but not of it. TPM DC
So what's a red state Democrat to do? DNC officials who gathered in Washington, DC to re-elect Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as party chair sounded cautiously optimistic that they could weather the storm if they approach it correctly.
Carolyn Warner, a Democratic national committeewoman from Arizona, said her state was emblematic of the moment. On the one hand, the Tucson shooting that wounded former Rep. Gabby Giffords and the recent Aurora theater attack in nearby Colorado have generated momentum for change. But the state's gun culture is as deeply embedded as anywhere in America, making any talk of gun control a touchy subject.
"What happened to Gabby has by and large focused our attention on guns and on mental illness," Warner said. "But we are the wild west and so everyone theoretically is packing and as a result of that we are schizophrenic in our belief system about guns."
Harriet Young, vice chair of the state's Democratic Party, suggested that the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in Connecticut and other recent shootings had given them a rare opportunity to convince gun owners of the need for basic reforms by isolating the NRA's leader, Wayne LaPierre, and his firebrand response to the massacre.
"He's moved steadily into more extreme positions and most of the NRA does not follow him," Young said. "So you have to get him away from the NRA, and the NRA away from ALEC, and ALEC away from our state legislators."
Mike Gierau, a Democratic committeeman from Wyoming, noted that Obama's main proposals -- an assault weapons ban and expanded background checks -- had already long been part of the DNC's platform without hurting its down-ballot candidates. He recommended keeping the focus on those measures, which polls generally show to be popular, while stressing that hunters would be unaffected by the changes.
"We can get an assault rifle ban and we can get the sensible gun laws we need without making people in my state feel threatened, just stay focused on our platform," he said.
Blue dog Democrats' may also be able to use their past reluctance to restrict guns to their advantage. Kentucky party Chair Dan Logsdon noted to TPM that his state's Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, and Democratic House speaker, Greg Stumbo, both have strong NRA ratings and both have voiced support for some changes to gun laws in the wake of the massacre. In West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), has also suggested he may be open to some gun restrictions despite his own close ties to the NRA.
"Given their strong support in the past, I'm not concerned it'll be that big an issue," Logsdon said.
As for legislators outside his state, Logsdon stressed that respect for gun owners would be critical.
"People I grew up with back in Kentucky who had a lot of guns are very responsible with them," he said. "They're always in a secure place, they teach themselves and their children how to properly handle them, and I think the President understands that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible people."
Chad Nodland, a Democratic committeeman from North Dakota, however, said that national leaders should listen carefully to concerns from Democrats in gun heavy regions like his state's own Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).
"I think it's important to keep people like Heidi involved in the discussions," he said. "I haven't seen any radical proposals and nobody is calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment that I'm aware of. I think if the proposals are reasonable, if blue states and red states get together as far as Democrats go, I think we can can do okay."