AUGUSTA, Maine — Sen. Susan Collins is pushing back in two directions against ads and mailers designed to pressure her before congressional votes on President Barack Obama’s proposals to toughen national gun laws.
“This is one of those issues where out-of-state groups are targeting me from completely opposite directions,” Collins said by phone Tuesday. “Neither has my position correct.”
Politico reported Monday that Organizing for Action, Obama’s nonprofit advocacy organization, started running online ads urging Collins and Republican senators in eight other states to back the president’s proposals. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is the only other New England senator and woman included in the ad campaign, according to Politico. Only one Democrat, Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, is a focus of the ads.
“Too many Americans are dying from gun violence and Congress needs to act. Call Sen. Collins,” the ad states.
From the other end of the ideological spectrum, a Colorado-based group called the National Association for Gun Rights last week did a mailing and began running television and radio ads that allege Collins “teamed up with liberal Democrats” and Obama to erode Second Amendment firearms possession rights. The ad also accuses Collins of trying to “strip gun rights from more Americans who seek mental health aid.”
In the ad, Collins’ face morphs into that of Obama. She said that gimmick, which reminded her of early Senate campaign ads that called her a clone of Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, struck her as odd, given that groups supporting Obama’s proposals are running ads “criticizing me for not doing enough to put controls on guns.”
Collins said no one from the National Association for Gun Rights contacted her office to seek information about her stance on background checks, assault rifles or other proposed legislation, and that the ad “completely misrepresents” her positions on gun rights and public safety.
Collins described it as “ironic” that an ad produced outside Maine states that she “doesn’t sound like a Mainer or a Republican.”
“I grew up in northern Maine,” she said. “Every family I knew had guns in their homes and used them responsibly. We have a heritage in Maine of law-abiding gun owners. I’m also aware that many states, including Maine, need to do a better job of reporting data [to the national database] about people judged by a court as being a threat to themselves or others.”
The ad urges constituents to contact Collins to ask that she support a filibuster threatened by Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Tennessee and Ted Cruz of Texas against a bill that would broaden federal requirements for background checks before gun sales.
“We’re not even sure what bill will come to the floor,” Collins said.
The National Association for Gun Rights also launched social media and email campaigns against Collins and other senators, including Republican stalwarts Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, according to a separate Politico report.
Dudley Brown, executive director of the group, told Politico he planned to spend at least $1 million this year “against anyone who supports new gun laws — but he’ll go especially hard after politicians from strong gun rights states.”
Politico reports that many congressional staff members complained about the National Association for Gun Rights’ tactics, noting that the ad campaigns confuse constituents about elected officials’ positions.
Collins said her office has received a couple hundred postcards and a few phone calls from constituents asking about the ad.
“It’s an old, tired, ineffective and unfair attack,” she said. “People in Maine know me, and they know it’s not true.”
However, the ads have created some confusion, Collins said, about the intent of legislation she’s co-sponsoring with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to crack down on illegal gun trafficking. The bill would stiffen penalties for “straw purchasers” who buy guns legally and then provide them to criminals or others whom the law prevents from possessing firearms.
Maine’s senior senator also is working with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., on a bill to help local school districts improve security, and with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., on a bill to expand mental health services. Collins said the latter addresses an important component of public safety policy that often disappears from debate over gun rights and gun violence.
She reiterated her opposition to a national gun registry and a ban on assault rifles.
“I don’t think you prohibit the manufacture of a rifle because of the way it looks,” she said, predicting that legislation proposing such a ban would not pass in Congress.
This new round of ads comes soon after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch gun control advocate, bankrolled a round of ads designed to sway federal lawmakers, including Collins, to support legislation that would require comprehensive background checks for gun purchases. Mayors Against Handgun Violence, a group Bloomberg finances, kept the pressure up Tuesday with a plan to grade federal elected officials on their gun violence position.
Collins said she believes the Organizing for Action ads are coordinated with Bloomberg’s efforts.
Despite pressure from both camps in the national gun-rights conflict, Collins said comments from Mainers guide her decision making.
“I want to assure the people of Maine that I’m giving this issue a lot of thought,” she said. “Their input has been very important to me, much more so than distortions from outside groups that don’t know Maine and don’t know me.”
As for whether these ads provide a preview of what to expect during a 2014 re-election campaign, Collins said, “The election is a long, long way away, and I hope this is not what it’s going to be like.”