that Max Baucus (D-MT)
and other Democrats could face political trouble over gun control
From Montana to Louisiana, these anxious voters have made at least six Democratic senators a little uneasy heading into next year's election season. Both sides are aware that gun-owners' rights are taking shape as a campaign issue that could shift the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
"Make no mistake – it is a very delicate dance for rural state Democrats," said Barrett Kaiser, a Democratic political consultant.
"I would be stunned if the Montana congressional delegation said anything but `hell no' to gun control measures," he added.
Part of the concern comes from a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity clips. The plan is a response to calls for new gun restrictions from President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school.
Gun control is a top-agenda item for many Democrats, and they'll need all the votes they can to push changes.
Baucus knows, though, that a gun control vote "opens the door for whoever challenges him, because Montanans do not want the federal government restricting guns. That is clear as day," said Republican state Rep. Scott Reichner, who was Mitt Romney's campaign chairman in Montana.
"It would be a monumental mistake on his part" to support federal gun control legislation, Reichner said.
Gun rights carry sway in Montana. The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks says Montana "boasts more hunters per capita than any other state in the nation." State lawmakers have been discussing measures to expand gun rights. And a pro-gun group, the Montana Shooting Sports Association, has set up a website that is updated with Baucus' public statements on gun policy.
Other Democratic senators that Republicans are watching closely include Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.