NRA logo

By JAMES HOHMANN | 5/4/13 5:54 PM EDT

HOUSTON — The National Rifle Association has become, more than ever, part and parcel of the Republican Party.

The officially nonpartisan group’s no-compromise strategy helped defeat the background check bill in the Senate last month and grow its membership ranks to 5 million.

But it has also repelled many old Democratic allies and raised the hackles of liberal activists, which will make it harder for moderates to work with the NRA in the future and pave the way for new gun control laws in blue states.

Fueling the shift is a Democratic Party that has become more liberal on guns. President Barack Obama, emboldened by his reelection, is less afraid to tackle the issue than a generation chastened by losing the House after the assault weapons ban in 1994. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending money against Democrats in primaries who oppose gun control. And the party has fewer members from southern states and rural districts.

The result is on display at this weekend’s NRA annual meeting here, where Democrats are glaringly absent from the roster of speakers.

It wasn’t always this way. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) received a standing ovation two years ago at the NRA convention in Pittsburgh. Former Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) attended in 2010. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) spoke in 2009.

This year, a host of potential 2016 Republican candidates pledged their fealty to the NRA. The keynote speaker at a Saturday night rally is Glenn Beck.

The trend began long before December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Last cycle, the NRA spent $18.6 million on independent expenditures – $13.3 million against Democrats (including Obama) and $6.2 million for Republicans. Only $41,506 went to boosting friendly Democrats, according to a tally from the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the 2012 cycle, the NRA cut checks to 26 House Democrats – down from 63 in the 2010 cycle. Twenty years earlier, in 1992, the NRA gave money to 91 House Democrats.

One of the NRA’s 75 board members is former Democratic Rep. Dan Boren from Oklahoma. But the board slants strongly to the right, from musician Ted Nugent to anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho).

Several former Democratic allies of the NRA complained that the group has marginalized itself.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean was endorsed by the NRA in each of his six statewide runs for governor of Vermont, something he touted when he ran for president in 2004. As a kid, he won NRA medals for marksmanship. But he said the group lurched right in search of money and members, even as national Republicans realized after their losses last November that they need to work with Obama.

To read entire story, click here.