Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey did the unexpected in cosponsoring the recent Senate gun background checks bill. And even though that bill did not pass, it's had an unexpected effect on his poll numbers -- they've gone up.
Pat Toomey is the conservative Republican who could plausibly claim the distinction of having run former moderate GOP Senator Arlen Specter out of the party. After Toomey bested him in the Republican primary, Specter became a Democrat.
A conservative and NRA favorite supports gun background checks
Toomey's conservative credentials are solid. A former head of the Club for Growth, he carries an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association. However, the NRA was not quite so approving of Toomey's latest effort with regard to gun background checks legislation.
Toomey was the co-sponsor, along with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, of bipartisan legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases conducted at gun shows and online. That measure failed to pass the Senate. Its tally of 54 votes was a clear majority, but fell short of the filibuster-proof 60 votes that now seem required to approve any substantial legislation in that body.
Although polls indicate that large majorities of the electorate favored (and still favor) the measure, the NRA, which spent almost $1.5 million helping Toomey get elected in 2010, opposed it. That's what made Toomey's co-sponsorship surprising.
Toomey's poll numbers increase because of his support for background checks
But going with the voters and against the NRA has brought its reward. Toomey's own poll numbers improved significantly in the wake of his support of the background checks proposal. According to a poll conducted by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, voters think more favorably of him by a 54 percent to 12 percent margin because of his co-sponsorship of the bill. His overall approval rating has increased to 48 percent approval vs 30 percent disapproval, his highest rating ever.
That surge in Toomey's numbers stands in stark contrast to the 15 percent plunge in the rating of New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte after she voted against the measure. The NRA is now running radio ads in Ayotte's behalf, hoping to help her regain the ground she lost because of her vote.
Public support of background checks remains high
A Gallup poll conducted after the Senate vote reported that 65 percent of respondents said the Senate should have passed the background checks legislation. A whopping 83 percent said that if they were allowed to personally vote on the measure, they would vote for its passage.
These poll results in the wake of the background checks vote give reason to hope that politicians may finally become convinced that there is a political price to pay for thwarting the clearly expressed will of the American people. Hopefully, the fact that an NRA favorite like Pat Toomey could support legislation the NRA opposes, and see his political prospects actually improve because of it, will embolden other office holders to do what the electorate continues to demand in poll after poll.
Perhaps one day soon the American people will be able to count on our elected representatives to support reasonable gun-safety measures, if not because it's the right thing to do, then because it's the politically prudent thing to do.