Joe Manchin to the Press: Don't Ask Me About Gun Control

The Obama administration wants to sit down with Iran’s leaders without any preconditions because the regime in Tehran is a “legitimate” and “elected” government, according to our new Secretaries of Defense and State — yet West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin’s office does place preconditions on granting local interviews: No questions about gun control, thank you:

Editor’s note: This question and answer session was permitted under the condition that The Journal would not ask questions regarding gun control legislation or the Second Amendment, as requested by the senator’s staff.

Kudos to the Journal News for flagging this demand at the very top of their story, which colors the rest of the interview.  The paper’s decision to alert the public to Manchin’s aversion to discussing this relevant issue probably reflects more poorly on him than an evasive answer on the subject might have.  Manchin’s panicked gyrations on guns has been quite a show.  Remember, he originalyl ran for Senate as a staunchly pro-gun Democrat, famously cutting a 2010 campaign ad in which he literally shot the ‘Cap and Trade’ bill with a rifle:

See?  He’s tough as nails and love his firearms. Since then, however, Manchin has been struggling to toe the line between serving as a reliable Obama collaborator (his default setting, it seems) and enraging his constitutents.  He signaled support for new gun control measures in December, prompting strong push-back from the folks at home — now he’s changing his tune again:

As a hunter with an A rating from the National Rifle Association, Mr. Manchin gave advocates for new weapons laws reason for optimism after he said last month that gun firepower and magazine capacity might need to be limited. But now, Mr. Manchin, who affirmed his support for gun rights by running a campaign commercial in 2010 showing him firing a rifle into an environmental bill, says he is not so sure. One of his local offices has been picketed, and even some of his most thoughtful supporters are cautioning him that stronger background checks are about all the gun control they can stomach.

Manchin won a special election in 2010 then cruised to re-election last year, so he won’t face voters again until 2018.  But that doesn’t mean that his positions and statements lack political impact.  In light of Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s January announcement that he’ll retire next year, Republicans have a real chance of competing for that opening seat.  To say that West Virginia’s voters aren’t great fans of President Obama is a gross understatement.  In the nominally uncontested 2012 Democratic presidential primary, a convicted felon serving a sentence in Texas attracted 41 of the vote against Obama (!), and Mitt Romney carried every single county in the state.  And that was before the president rolled out his gun control campaign.  Manchin had no choice but to pretend to oppose the administration in each of his last two campaigns, but his recent equivocation on the Second Amendment may provide an opportunity for the GOP to open voters’ eyes.  West Virginia has long been a Democratic state, having not elected a Republican to the United States Senate since the 1950s — and like clockwork, the Democrats’ Senate nominee next year will inevitably assure voters that he or she is independent-minded and will stand up to the White House to protect West Virginian values.  Republicans can now counter that Manchin performed the exact same tapdance before opening the door to backing Obama’s guns agenda.  Fool me once (or in Manchin’s case, twice), etc…The only way to guarantee a meaningful check on the Obama administration in Washington, they’ll argue, is to reject and rebuke the president’s party.

Other 2014 Senate notes: There are currently two upcoming Senate vacancies in seats controlled by Republicans in Nebraska and Georgia, both of which are likely GOP holds.  Three Democrat incumbents have announced their retirements thus far, in Iowa, West Virginia and New Jersey.  If Bob Menendez’s scandals continue to deepen (more evidence of his cronyism has been uncovered by the Associated Press), there’s a chance that there will be another Senate opening in the Garden State.  I’ve also heard strong rumors that South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson is preparing to step aside, which would instantly become a prime opportunity for Republicans.  The GOP would need to net six seats next November to capture the upper chamber, a tall order.  Republican gains of two to four seats seems eminently attainable, but that’s also what many observers expected last year.