Dan Morain

By Dan Morain
Published: Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1E

Joe Baca never saw it coming, and neither did Gloria Negrete McLeod.

But as state Sen. Negrete McLeod replaces Baca in Congress, the dueling San Bernardino County Democrats witnessed first hand the beginnings of a change in gun politics, courtesy of billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

No doubt the strongest gun control advocate on Forbes’ list of the fabulously rich, Bloomberg seized an opportunity to unseat Baca, a pro-gun Democrat, by spending $3.3 million on television and mail attacks. Given his estimated $25 billion fortune, $3.3 million is couch cushion change. But it was three times the sum Baca and Negrete McLeod raised between them. By homing in on a loyal National Rifle Association politician, Bloomberg altered a long-standing element of American politics.

Time was, a politician like Baca could cast pro-gun votes, receive NRA support and not worry about an attack from any moneyed interest that promoted gun control. No such group existed, at least not on the order of the NRA.

Until, that is, Bloomberg came along. He spent $8.1 million through his Independence USA political action committee in his first serious foray into the electoral politics of guns, and candidates he backed won in three of the six races where Independence USA played.

“It sends a message: you can lose your seat by voting against prudent gun legislation,” said New York Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, the strategist who led Bloomberg’s campaign. “Hopefully, members will think twice before taking these votes. They can’t just vote the NRA’s way and assume they won’t hear about it.”

The NRA spent more than $17 million on this year’s campaigns. It failed in its top priority, unseating President Barack Obama, a $12 million effort, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The NRA didn’t fare well in U.S. Senate races, either, spending six-figure sums in Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Maine, Missouri and Arizona, winning only in Arizona.

It skipped Baca’s race, a telling omission. If any candidate warranted NRA support, Baca was that man. In his 20 years in Sacramento and in Washington, Baca rarely if ever wavered from National Rifle Association orthodoxy. There were times when he was the only Democrat who sided with the NRA.

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