Opening Act: Special Election Edition, Featuring the Total Defeat of Gun Control

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 11 2013 8:30 AM

Opening Act: Special Election Edition, Featuring the Total Defeat of Gun Control

Last night I stopped by the D.C. coming-out party for the relaunched Crossfire, the CNN classic that pits two conservatives and two liberals against each other and a series of guests. Arriving at the same time: Rep. Mark Sanford and his fiancée, Maria Belen Chapur. We talked a bit about his recent "no" votes and how the couple split their time; If someone else in the conversation brought up the new-new semi-scandal about the junket the two were taking to Israel, I didn't hear it. It was a reminder of just how secure the once-disgraced governor has made himself.

As for the Democrats who tried to repeat Sanford's comeback: not so much. Both Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner lost their comeback bids in New York, and the only question is who was more humiliated. There were more interesting/important elections last night, and bigger lessons, but we'll start with this:

Don't mount a comeback from a sex scandal unless you're Mark Sanford. Eliot Spitzer started his surprise return to politics as a sort of front-runner, way outpacing Scott Stringer in name recognition. According to early polls, voters didn't even really have an unfavorable view of Spitzer—it had been five whole years since he resigned in disgrace. But Stringer hit Spitzer remorselessly, running ads and sending mailers explicitly reminding voters that Spitzer had bought prostitutes. He beat the former governor (and more importantly, Slate columnist) by 4 points. Weiner was never that strong, and even when he was the "front-runner" he merely led in a few polls taken before most candidates were on the air. The same polls typically showed him losing if the clustered race went to a runoff. Vito Lopez, a city councilman embroiled in his own scandal, lost his primary, too.

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It wasn't a good idea to donate to the Weiner campaign in order to get right with Hillary 2016. Really, it wasn't! Weiner did even worse than the polling had predicted. Final surveys had him at around 7–9 points; he clocked in at 5. His victory party featured yet another Sydney Leathers PR stunt and ended with the candidate giving reporters the finger. Republicans had thrilled at the idea of tying Democrats to Spitzer and Weiner, and the RNC had even purchased Web ads attacking Spitzer, but they'll have to settle for asking whether Huma Abedin will play a role in Hillary 2016. The nation is blissfully free of Weiner news for years now, if we so choose to be.

Gun control lost big in Colorado. Conservatives succeeded in two recalls of Democratic state senators who'd voted for the state's package of gun controls. One of the losers, Angela Giron, told Alec MacGillis that "For Mayors Against Illegal Guns, if they lose even one of these seats, they might as well fold it up. And they understand that." Sometimes you see a quote and know you'll be hearing it for years, or seeing it on T-shirts at NRA conventions. Gun control advocates had to fight for Democratic but culturally conservative districts, and they lost, despite more than matching the pro-gun money spent there.

Winning a state Senate recall: Mixed-but-newsy results from Wisconsin to Colorado! The spin MacGillis got from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, on the Colorado losses, is actually somewhat convincing. "It’s the kind of political tactic the gun lobby specializes in," said Mark Glaze, "low-turnout elections where the only people interested at the beginning of the process are people who want to throw people out." Indeed—we saw that just two years ago, when labor activists succeeded in toppling three Republican state senators in Wisconsin. They thought they were on the road to beating Gov. Scott Walker. They weren't—more money and higher turnout led to a Walker victory. Last night's elections don't spell doom for Gov. John Hickenlooper, but the gun control (sorry, GUN SAFETY) movement was worried about something else.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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