NRA doesn’t strike fear on Sotomayor vote

NRA DOESN’T STRIKE FEAR ON SOTOMAYOR VOTE…. The NRA, which is generally accustomed to persuading lawmakers to the group’s way of thinking, wants senators to vote against Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination. In a development that must be frustrating for the conservative group, few seem to care.

The National Rifle Association’s threat to punish senators who vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has been met with a shrug by Democrats from conservative-leaning states and some Republicans who are breaking with their party to support her.

The gun-rights group is used to getting its way by spooking lawmakers about the political consequences of defying its wishes. But it never before has weighed in on a Supreme Court confirmation battle. It was cautious about breaking that pattern, and it looks like a losing fight to defeat President Barack Obama’s first pick for the court.

Sotomayor is expected to easily win confirmation in a vote this coming week that could deflate the long-accepted truism in Washington that you don’t cross the NRA.

Savvy, powerful lobbying groups tend to be well aware of how and when to avoid losing fights. In this case, the NRA, which has never fought against a Supreme Court nominee, waited until the first Latina nominee was brought to a Senate with a 60-vote Democratic majority. In terms of strategic moves, this one doesn’t seem especially smart.

This is particularly relevant in the NRA’s case, since it wields power by striking fear in the hearts of lawmakers. The more the group sticks its neck out on a fight it was destined to lose, the less credibility it has the next time it starts making demands of, and threats to, lawmakers.

It leads to an obvious question: why on earth would the NRA bother? A month after Sotomayor’s nomination was announced, the group was satisfied to stay on the sidelines. After the confirmation hearings, the NRA announced its formal opposition to Sotomayor, but didn’t seem interested in pressuring senators on the issue. Soon after, the NRA took an unexpected gamble.

Accounts differ, but NPR had an interesting report the other day, noting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), two weeks ago, urged the NRA to take on a more active role, and begin pressing lawmakers on the nomination. By all appearances, the conservative group agreed to the GOP leader’s request.

And why would McConnell want this? My hunch is, McConnell wants to put red-state Dems in an awkward position. If a center-right Democrat, worried about his or her NRA rating, votes for Sotomayor, he or she will be vulnerable to NRA attacks in the next election. If he or votes against the nominee, it offers bipartisan cover to Republicans.