As tough a week as it was for President Obama–playing international and Congressional bumper car– last week’s elections can’t have been too heartening for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Not only has Bloomberg’s staunchest critic–Bill De Blasio–emerged atop the Democratic pack of mayoral candidates,  two Bloomberg supported state senators in Colorado were ousted in recall elections sparked by their votes in favor of gun control.  No matter how rich and well intentioned you are, there are some things that just can’t be controlled.

Although small in physical stature, Mayor Bloomberg is a bigger than life figure.  He is smart, enormously wealthy, progressive, well–intentioned  and willing to put his money where his mouth is.  He can also appear  arrogant, autocratic and tone deaf.    All of these attributes come together on the gun regulation issue.   He is Co-chair and the driving force behind Mayors Against Illegal Guns and is leading a national crusade to push for stronger gun regulations with mixed success.

Candidate elections are a particularly tricky ground for gun regulation advocates.  In California,  Mayor Bloomberg and his allies poured money into the successful campaign of Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod against Congressman Joe Baca who had opposed tough gun laws.    It remains to be seen whether the Mayors’ ad campaign against U.S. Senators who  blocked gun legislation will help or hurt the gun regulation effort.   The rebuttal spot by Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor may have helped to showcase him as an official who cares more about what Arkansans think than he does about Washington and New York elites.  In any event, helping to defeat Pryor, would only strengthen anti-gun control forces by putting another conservative Republican in the Senate.

In Colorado,  Mayor Bloomberg’s $350,000 contribution and much more contributed by his friends, failed to save two Democratic State Senators who had supported Colorado’s tough new gun regulations.  Even though statewide polls had shown general opposition to the recalls and backing for the gun laws,  the National Rifle Association and its allies prevailed in a very low turn-out election.   That is where the intensity factor comes into play.

The NRA is a cynical, authoritarian organization that is driven by the ideology of its leadership and the profits of the gun industry.  Even though an overwhelming majority of its members, according to surveys, support background check requirements,  the NRA has used its muscle to bottle up the legislation in Congress.  NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre offers up distorted interpretations of the Second Amendment that would seem to affirm the right of every convicted felon to own a concealed nuclear missile.   What the NRA has going for it is a take no prisoners attitude, the appearance of speaking for the average gun owners and a hard core constituency of true believers around the country, who can be activated in places like Colorado.  It’s a sure bet that in the Colorado election, Mayor Bloomberg and his allies came off as outsides, while the NRA successfully donned its grass roots disguise.

The hard part for gun regulation advocates is not convincing the voting public that they are right, but rather to put the issue at the top of their priority list when casting their ballots.  The NRA and its base would seem to care about only one issue and will target their energies and votes accordingly.  In races decided by a few percentage points, that can make all the difference.  The California Legislature is poised to enact more gun laws to go with what are already among the most stringent regulations in the country.  It is unlikely these new laws will endanger many , if any, lawmakers in this deep blue state, but the Colorado example may cause tremors among  pro-regulation officials in purple and red states and districts.

For Mayor Bloomberg and others backing sensible  gun laws to prevail, they need to nurture their own grass roots constituency that flourishes in places outside New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston.  There needs to be a cadre of pro-regulation voters in swing states and districts that are as adamant as the NRA’s flock. Winning in the polls isn’t enough, you have to win at the polls.