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Gun-control debate: How does Bloomberg stack up against the NRA?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is on a mission to challenge the NRA's longtime sway over gun policies. Here are the strengths each side brings to the gun-control debate.

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / March 26, 2013

The National Rifle Association’s Ruthann Sprague shows a visitor how to play the game at a shooting simulator booth at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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New York

How do New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his "super political-action committee," Independence USA, stack up against the National Rifle Association (NRA)? Here is a look at the strengths of each side.

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What Mr. Bloomberg and his super PAC offer:

Money

The NRA has extraordinarily deep pockets, but still, Bloomberg has a net worth of $27 billion. Undoubtedly, his fortune is his greatest asset.

"There's never been a level playing field when it comes to dollars and cents," says Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Independence USA. "He's evening the financial playing field."

"Mayor Bloomberg's involvement reflects the first time you have a force with significant money supporting candidates who favor [gun control]," adds John McGlennon, a political scientist at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. "That's a big change: For all the involvement of other groups like the Brady Campaign, their ability to compete with the NRA financially just didn't exist. This lets [pro-gun-control] candidates know that there is somebody out there who can support them."

Public support

Bloomberg entered the conversation at a crucial juncture, when the Newtown, Conn., shooting led many people to support more gun-control legislation.

More than 90 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted about a month after the shooting. A separate USA Today/Gallup poll found 58 percent of Americans favor stronger gun laws – the highest level since 2004 and a 15-point increase from a year earlier.

"He has the weight of public opinion," Mr. McGlennon says. "People are looking for some change on gun regulation, especially background checks and large magazines."

Targeting power

The NRA typically supports any candidate to whom it gives a good rating, thereby spreading itself thin, says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. By contrast, Independence USA focuses its resources on the most strategic races and candidates, thus potentially achieving more bang for its buck.

"In general, an NRA endorsement means they have to defend everyone who has a high NRA rating," Mr. Simpson says. "Whereas Bloomberg can pick and choose."

In backing Democratic contender Robin Kelly in the Illinois special primary election, Independence USA used strategic messaging to crowd out other issues – and candidates – and redefine the race on terms favorable to its cause. Ms. Kelly won the primary.

Message from Illinois

The Illinois race marked a turning point for Independence USA and Bloomberg: It sent a clear message to would-be officeholders across the country on both sides of the debate, McGlennon says. "Candidates know that there's always that potential he'll get involved," he says. "It creates an anticipatory reaction on the part of a politician. They know he's looking at races."

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