In the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, much of the intra-party fight has focused on strategic and tactical considerations -- most notably which candidate is the "electable." The campaign has unfolded this way in part because the top candidates tend to agree on most of the key issues.
But there's one major area of substantive disagreement between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and as the New York Times reported over the weekend, the former Secretary of State seems to believe she has an important advantage on this issue.
Hillary Clinton pressed Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on his gun control record during her appearance on "Face the Nation" on CBS on Sunday, and brushed off "dead end" attacks from Donald J. Trump and other Republicans about Bill Clinton's past scandals. On CBS, Mrs. Clinton continued to knock Mr. Sanders for a past Senate vote to give gun manufacturers immunity from prosecution when a gun is used in a crime. She is seeking to highlight one of the few areas where she is to Mr. Sanders's left on an issue.
That's true. Sanders' reputation as a progressive champion is well deserved, but on guns, the Vermont senator's record isn't nearly as liberal. By his own admission, when it comes to guns, Sanders is eyeing an ideological "middle," rather than the left.
And his vote shielding gun manufacturers from prosecution is a good example of an issue on which Sanders took a decidedly conservative posture. Clinton argued yesterday, "It's the only industry in our country where we have given that kind of carte blanche to do whatever you want to do with no fear of legal consequences."
She struck a similar chord with MSNBC's Chris Matthews last week, arguing, "When it really mattered, Sen. Sanders voted with the gun lobby, and I voted against the gun lobby.... [M]aybe it's time for Sen. Sanders to stand up and say, 'I got this one wrong.' But he hasn't."
Sanders responded yesterday that the bill "was a complicated piece of legislation," which may be true, but it's not a line that will necessarily help win over skeptics.
For example, Bloomberg Politics reported over the weekend, "The day before [Sanders] voted to grant the gun industry immunity from legal liability, he voted against doing the same for fast-food companies and opposed doing the same for half a dozen other industries during his time in the House, roll call records show."
At the same time, new Clinton endorsements from Gabby Giffords, Mark Kelly, and Sybrina Fulton, mother of the late Trayvon Martin, have also helped reinforce the impression that this issue is taking hold as a key part of the Democratic race -- which isn't necessarily good news for Sanders, who's otherwise faring well in recent 2016 polling.
As for the bigger picture, obviously Clinton and her team see this as an important area of vulnerability for Sanders, but the Washington Post's Greg Sargent raised a related point this morning: "It's my suspicion that it is not an accident that this gun battle comes at a moment when Clinton is also ramping up the argument that she is more electable in November..... [T]he idea behind attacking Sanders on guns, in addition to the legit policy argument over the liability issue itself, also appears designed to throw Sanders on the defensive, and thus to illustrate which candidate really has the political fight to prevail in November."
Look for more on the topic on tonight's show.