04/21/2013 07:11 pm ET Updated Jun 21, 2013

Toomey-Manchin II: The Five Senators We Need the Most

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The Five Senators who could get us to at least 59 votes for legislation on universal background checks are: Reid, Schumer, Durbin, Murray and Bennett. We would need one more Republican but I am not the right person to figure out who that would be. Wait, didn't those five Senators already vote for Toomey-Manchin? Yes they did (Reid sorta did). Haven't we been going after the four Democrats who should be ashamed that they voted No? Baucus, Begich, Heitkamp, and Pryor? Yes we have, yes they should, yes we need to change their votes. But how?

Here are three possible ways to change their votes. 1. Appeal deeply, vigorously, and persistently to their consciences so that they can no longer look at themselves in the mirror or sleep at night unless they change their position. 2. Stir up their constituencies, and either by forcing a need to switch positions to win, or by recruiting a candidate who will vote. Make switching a political necessity. 3. Diminish their power in the Senate and severely hamper their ability to raise funds.

We need to work on all three.

I think most Senators, including these four, are moral people who vote according to their values as often as they believe they can. Whether or not it is fair, U.S. Senators are unable to be moral purists on every issue. If they always voted according to their values, they would never have been elected in the first place. They could do it more often though, especially if they heard from millions of mobilized moms and millennials.

In Montana, Alaska, North Dakota and Arkansas voters will not effectively demand that their Senators vote for universal background checks. 75-90 percent of the voters in those states agree that we should have those checks. Few of them will become single-issue voters. Democrats with more progressive positions on gun violence who challenge in primaries would face one of two fates: win the primary, lose the general election, or, just lose the primary, probably hurting the incumbent. Republicans who could successfully challenge those four are hardly likely to be in favor of universal background checks.

That brings me back to Senators Reid, Schumer, Durbin, Murray and Bennett. The Senate leadership and the Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are very powerful. They choose which committees which Senators sit on, and who gets to be leaders of those committees. They heavily influence how much support other Senators get from the DSCC, organizations, and from donors, particularly major donors across the nation.

There is a double-whammy effect here too: if you have less power within the Senate you are able to get less done for those who support you and for your state. You have more trouble motivating donors to give and voters to vote. Less government money back to the state, less money to interested interests, less campaign funds, less popularity.

We might even swing back to the shame, morality, and values part of the equation if Democratic leadership stepped in. They could shame or praise Baucus, Begich, Heitkamp and Pryor, and not just with words but with real political consequences.

As we focus spotlights on the people who voted the wrong way, let's also focus on the people who could turn them around. It is time for the Senate Leadership to lead. Time for the DSCC to find a moral compass. Time for us to demand that Senate Leadership diminish those four Senators' power. It is time for the DSCC to read those four Senators the riot act.

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