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Why Ayotte and Toomey are moving in opposite directions

Why Ayotte and Toomey are moving in opposite directions
Why Ayotte and Toomey are moving in opposite directions

Sen. Kelly Ayotte's (R) standing in New Hampshire has seen better days. A week after she sided with the gun lobby and voted to kill expanded background checks, Public Policy Polling found her approval rating dropping to 44%. Though Ayotte isn't up for re-election until 2016, the poll found that half of her constituents are less likely to support her in the future because of her vote.

On the other hand, there's Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania, whose approval rating is going up after cosponsoring the background check killed by his own party. Greg Sargent noted this morning:

Pennsylvania is an interesting test case with broader implications. While it does lean blue, it has a deep gun culture, and it is home to the sort of suburban district -- represented by Republicans -- where gun reformers still hope to pick up unexpected GOP support.Indeed, one notable finding is that Pat Toomey's approval rating is now at 53 percent among suburban voters -- in a state where the Philadelphia suburbs are key to statewide races. Hopefully other Republicans who represent rapidly suburbanizing states (such as Kelly Ayotte) or suburban House districts will take note. Overall, 54 percent in Pennsylvania -- and 56 percent of suburbanites -- view Toomey more favorably because of his stewardship of the bill. And 61 percent of women -- a demographic the GOP needs to improve among – view him more favorably.

Ayotte and Toomey are both conservative senators in blue-ish states, so it's interesting to see how their fortunes have moved in opposite directions as the gun debate has unfolded.

Indeed, it might be the sort of thing that gets lawmakers' attention if gun reforms are resuscitated in Congress -- and there's some evidence they might be.

When the National Rifle Association insisted this week that the fight over preventing gun violence is not over, it was hard to know whether this was a genuine concern on the group's part, or just another fundraising ploy built on paranoia.

In this case, however, it might be the former. The New York Times reports that talks to revive guns reforms are "quietly under way on Capitol Hill."

Drawing on the lessons from battles in the 1980s and '90s over the Brady Bill, which failed in Congress several times before ultimately passing, gun control supporters believe they can prevail by working on a two-pronged strategy. First, they are identifying senators who might be willing to change their votes and support a background check system with fewer loopholes.Second, they are looking to build a national campaign that would better harness overwhelming public support for universal background checks -- which many national polls put at near 90 percent approval -- to pressure lawmakers.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he's not done negotiating, and he and his allies are "going to work it hard."

Also of note, Ayotte has expressed an interest in Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) anti-trafficking bill, which would "criminalize the shipping or transfer of guns to someone who is barred from possessing a firearm."

When the process imploded last week and Democratic leaders were forced to pull the core legislation, reform proponents kept insisting that this would be a temporary setback and they were prepared for a multi-round fight. I largely assumed the comments were meant to keep up morale, but that it would be a long while before members seriously broached the subject again.

My assumptions were apparently wrong and real talks are once again underway. That's not to success is around the corner, but the larger effort has a pulse -- which is more than I would have said last week.