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Democrats from rural areas face pressure from pro-gun constituents

Democratic senators from mostly rural areas in the West and South must walk a fine line between party loyalty and constituents' wishes when it comes to gun control legislation. 

By Associated Press / March 10, 2013

Sen. Max Baucus addressing the Montana Legislature in Helena, Mont. Jan. 10. Democrats who long ago embraced pro-gun politics to gain a foothold in Western and other gun-friendly states are facing constituents angry with Washington's renewed call for a ban on assault weapons. In Montana, the Clinton-era assault weapon ban vote nearly sank Baucus in 1996; as he faces reelection in 2014, gun advocates want to make sure he remembers his vote for the ban.

Dylan Brown/The Independent Record/AP/File

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Helena, Montana

Democratic senators in the West and South who have long embraced gun-owners' rights are facing angry constituents, on edge over a renewed call for a ban on assault weapons from liberal lawmakers in Washington, D.C., in the aftermath of December's deadly elementary school shooting in Connecticut.

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The issue could shift the balance of power in the US Senate in the 2014 election, and impact President Barack Obama's ability to implement his second-term agenda.

These Democrats hail from predominantly rural regions of the country where the Second Amendment of the US Constitution — which guarantees the right to bear arms — is cherished and where Republican candidates routinely win in presidential elections.

From Montana to Louisiana, these anxious voters have made at least six Democratic senators a bit uneasy heading into next year's election season. Both sides are aware that gun-owners' rights are taking shape as a campaign issue for 2014.

"Make no mistake — it is a very delicate dance for rural state Democrats," said Barrett Kaiser, a Democratic political consultant.

US Sen. Max Baucus of Montana knows all too well what's at stake. Back during President Bill Clinton's administration, the Democrat faced a choice: support an assault weapons ban urged by a president from his own party and risk angering constituents who cherish their gun rights, or buck his party. He voted for the ban, and nearly lost his Senate seat.

Now, as he begins his campaign for a seventh term, Baucus faces the question again. For weeks, gun foes have sought assurances that he would oppose the assault weapons ban. But it was only this past week that he said he would oppose it.

But that decision alone doesn't settle the issue for his re-election campaign. His opponents are watching closely, eager to pounce as Baucus navigates a series of other gun control proposals, including an expected call for universal background checks for gun purchasers.

Part of the concern comes from a proposal by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. The plan is a response to calls for new gun restrictions from President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 children and six adults dead.

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