The role that guns will play in 2014 results remains uncertain, since the issue will share the media spotlight with a host of other concerns, notably the economy. And when it comes to emotional issues, Immigration replaces guns, said Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
The outlook for key Democratic-held seats:
Alaska. Begich won in 2008 with 48 percent of the vote in a multi-candidate race, and hes considered vulnerable. If he comes out even remotely in favor of gun control at all, it will have a tangible negative effect, Moore predicted.
North Carolina. Sen. Kay Hagan already faces a tough re-election. Representing a state in which an estimated 42 percent of the population owns firearms at home, Hagan co-chairs the Congressional Sportsmens Caucus, highlighting her sensitivity to gun owners.
Arkansas. Whoever runs against Sen. Mark Pryor will try to tar and feather him on the gun issue, Arkansas Poll Director Janine Parry said. But hes pretty immune from charges hes for gun control. If nothing else, she said, Mark is broad-shouldered and looks like hed be comfortable in a duck blind.
West Virginia. Sen. Jay Rockefeller is retiring, and the seat is one of the elections biggest tossups. Republicans are increasingly popular; Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., ran an ad during his 2010 campaign touting his NRA support in which he shot a rifle, firing a bullet into a cap and trade bill. Manchin later said he might not release the ad today. Still, the state is very much an outdoors, hunting state. Hunting is part of the culture, said Rex Repass, West Virginia Poll research director.
Iowa. Sen. Tom Harkin, one of the Senates leading liberals, is retiring. The state has long had a liberal-conservative split; its other Senate seat has been held for 32 years by conservative Republican Charles Grassley. A Des Moines Register poll last year found that about one-fourth of state residents thought gun laws should be tougher. Banning guns based on their appearance does not make sense, Grassley said.
South Dakota. The nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report rates Sen. Tim Johnsons race a pure tossup. He faces a difficult challenge from former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, who won re-election as governor in 2006 with 62 percent of the vote.
Montana. Sen. Max Baucus, the powerful chairman of the tax-writing Finance Committee, might face his biggest challenge if a gun-control, or liberal, Democrat tries to wrest the nomination.
Louisiana. Sen. Mary Landrieu has a history of close races in a state where Republicans have done well, and being sympathetic to gun rights might be a help. To the extent that should show independence from Obama, Id buy that argument, said Kirby Goidel, the director of the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University.
Landrieu recently chose her words very carefully, an illustration of how delicately Democrats in conservative states have to tread.
My record of support for the Second Amendment is strong. In Louisiana and many places across the country, hunting, target shooting and gun collecting are time-honored sports and popular hobbies, she said.
On the other hand, Landrieu added, We must find a way to balance our Second Amendment rights with the challenges of mental illness, criminal behavior and the safety of our schools and communities.