Mayor Bloomberg Pounds D.C. Pavement on Gun Control

Posted February 27, 2013 at 5:49pm

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took his victory lap to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to advocate for his pet political issue: gun control.

Fresh off his super PAC’s victory in an Illinois special election, Bloomberg is moving on to the rest of Congress as his next target, urging members to pass legislation on background checks.

“Is it a harbinger of things to come? I think so,” Bloomberg said in a briefing at the White House. “This is the public speaking. I didn’t win. … It is the public who is the winner here.”

Bloomberg’s super PAC claimed victory for boosting its preferred candidate to victory in Tuesday’s 2nd District primary. Independence USA PAC spent $2.5 million to support Cook County Chief Administrator Robin Kelly, now the Democratic nominee and likely the next member from the heavily Democratic district.

But it was clear that even though the 2nd District special election primary is over, Bloomberg’s political campaign has only begun. Bloomberg described Kelly’s win in the primary to replace former Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. as the start of what he expects will be a trend.

“The voters … understood that they and their children and grandchildren are at risk with guns on the streets,” he said, adding that he would continue to spend money in districts where he could make a difference.

But Bloomberg’s next move comes a little closer to Capitol Hill than Chicago. He wants to ensure Congress passes a key piece of gun control legislation that would require background checks. He underscored this priority in meetings on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning.

“He talked about the success they had in that last election in Chicago that just happened and that he is going to remain active on the issue,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on his Wednesday meeting with Bloomberg.

In addition to McCain, Bloomberg met with GOP Sens. Mark S. Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine as well as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., before heading to the White House to meet with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and briefly with President Barack Obama.

Both the mayor and his PAC kept quiet on the specifics of where his super PAC would spend big this cycle. But one Bloomberg source described the Illinois race as “a little skirmish” compared to what would come later in the cycle.

Bloomberg and others have shown little interest in investing in races where there is no path to victory for a preferred candidate or to exact punishment for punishment’s sake. Instead, Bloomberg’s team aims to give skittish members on both sides of the aisle confidence that they will have political support in upcoming votes on gun issues.

“Bloomberg has a brilliant tea. They are a bunch of seasoned veteran strategists. He has an unlimited budget, and of course, he can go affect races wherever he wants,“ said C.R. Wooters, a lobbyist and former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffer.

Bloomberg’s support comes from his deep pockets, which are large enough to eclipse campaign spending for an entire cycle if he wanted. Campaign finance experts estimate political spending topped $6 billion in 2012 — a fraction of Bloomberg’s $22 billion net worth, according to Forbes.

But it’s hard to find Bloomberg another race as well-suited to his super PAC’s mission as the 2nd District special election. Chicago’s south side endured epidemic gun violence problem in recent years, plus the race received national attention after the shootings in Newtown, Conn.

The most obvious races for Bloomberg to influence are his 2012 targets. For example, Bloomberg spent big to help Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod topple former Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., last year — and now the former congressman is plotting a comeback bid.

Bloomberg could also help former Rep. Robert Dold, R-Ill., return to Congress this cycle. His PAC boosted Dold with $1 million in advertisements last cycle, and the former congressman has not ruled out a campaign for his seat in the northern Chicago suburbs in 2014 after losing by less than a point last year.

Bloomberg “has a profile of an independent that helps him make his case a little more,” Wooters said.

But Bloomberg could pack the biggest political punch in the most expensive media markets — much like what he did on pricey Chicago television in the special primary.

Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., a favorite of the National Rifle Association, was on the receiving end of a negative Bloomberg ad blitz in 2012. His somewhat competitive district includes the Orlanda media market.

Meanwhile, Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, R-N.J., another favorite of the NRA, represents another somewhat competitive district in the Philadelphia market. His terrain also includes Atlantic City, which has been ravaged by a crime wave.

Indeed, Bloomberg’s political largess might be best spent in districts where gun control was already an issue. Those districts, for the most part, are urban, heavily Democratic seats — like Kelly’s new district.

Kelly herself avoided mentioning him in her victory speech. But it’s clear that going forward, Bloomberg will be a force of nature in American politics.

Steven T. Dennis and Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.