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Additionally, he said in some regions, gun control “can be a winning issue for Democrats. But nationally, it’s a loser … and they have figured that out.” Attempts to emphasize the issue will “really motivate the opposition. And in a political campaign, nobody wants to do that,” he said.

At its core, Wilson said, the issue divides rural voters from urban voters.

Often, that means Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other. But not always.

In the current election cycle, the NRA has made 88 percent of its political donations to Republicans, and 12 percent to Democrats, according to OpenSecrets.org. The disparity obscures that the organization consistently supports some Democrats, a strategy that allows it to retain influence in both parties.

Its clout was vividly on display in 2010 when majority Democrats in the House sidetracked legislation giving the District of Columbia a voting representative in the House of Representatives. Republicans had vowed to add an NRA-backed provision invalidating a city ban on handgun possession as the price for passage, and there was little doubt it had the votes to prevail.

Later in the year, the NRA objected to legislation to require groups airing political advertising to disclose donors. Fearing the fallout, enough rank and file Democrats demanded changes that the leadership had to revise the bill. A revised bill, granting the NRA and other large organizations an exemption, eventually passed.

Dan Gross, head of the Brady Campaign to End Handgun Violence, says Democrats have drawn the wrong lessons for years. “The cultural narrative exists because of the assessment of Al Gore’s loss in 2000 and the mid-terms in 1994, and in both cases I think the gun issue was scapegoated,” he said. “Those who didn’t vote for Al Gore weren’t going to vote for him anyway.”

At the same time, Gross readily conceded the lingering hold of the issue.

“Look at Kerry when he felt he needed to dress up in hunting gear,” he said, referring to the Democratic presidential candidate’s well-photographed excursion into a duck blind in camouflage clothing in swing-state Ohio a few weeks before the 2004 election.

Four years later, Obama won the White House despite strong opposition from the NRA.

As a senator from Illinois and state lawmaker before that, he was a strong supporter of gun control.

Following last year’s killing of six people and the wounding of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., Obama called for steps to “keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.”

He advanced no legislative proposals then, and on Friday, spokesman Jay Carney said, “The president believes that we need to take common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights of Americans, while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing law do not get them.”

Obama isn’t the only 2012 White House candidate to adjust his views on gun control.

In a losing Senate campaign in Massachusetts in 1994, Mitt Romney said, “I don’t line up with the NRA.” A decade later, as governor, he signed legislation making a state assault weapons ban permanent.

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