Bill Clinton to Democrats: Don’t trivialize gun culture

By Byron Tau

Bill Clinton is pictured. | AP Photo

‘Do not patronize the passionate supporters of your opponents,’ Clinton said. | AP Photo

By BYRON TAU | 1/19/13 4:55 PM EST Updated: 1/20/13 12:52 PM EST

Former President Bill Clinton warned a group of top Democratic donors at a private Saturday meeting not to underestimate the passions that gun control stirs among many Americans.

“Do not patronize the passionate supporters of your opponents by looking down your nose at them,” Clinton said.

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“A lot of these people live in a world very different from the world lived in by the people proposing these things,” Clinton said. “I know because I come from this world.”

Clinton dedicated a substantial portion of his 40-minute address before a joint meeting of the Obama National Finance Committee and a group of business leaders to the issue of guns and gun control, saying that it was a test-case for President Barack Obama’s grass-roots movements. (POLITICO was given a transferable ticket by an invited member of the committee.)

“The way the Obama campaign won Florida, won Ohio, won this election by more than projected was the combination of technology, social media and personal contact,” Clinton said. That’s “the only way that our side will ever be able to even up the votes in the midterms and as these issues come up, really touch people and talk to them about it.”

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Obama begins his second term facing an uphill battle on gun control — an emotional, divisive and difficult issue that the cool and pragmatic Obama would usually avoid.

Obama took 23 executive actions this week to curb gun violence, but his key proposals will need a vote from Congress to become law. With a GOP House unlikely to take up any new gun control measures — and even some Democrats expressing wariness — his only recourse is to make his case directly to the public.

Clinton said that Republicans have been struggling in presidential politics since 1992 — noting that 2004 was the only time a Republican has won the popular vote in more than 20 years. But, he said, the party has been successful in energizing its supporters for midterm elections.

“You have the power to really democratize America,” Clinton said. “You can do it on immigration reform, you can do it on these economic issues. You can do it on implementing the health care bill.”

But, Clinton warned, the issue of guns has a special emotional resonance in many rural states — and simply dismissing pro-gun arguments is counterproductive.

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While some polls show that the public by-and-large supports several proposals for increased gun control, Clinton said that it’s not the public support that matters — it’s how strongly people feel about the issue.

“All these polls that you see saying the public is for us on all these issues — they are meaningless if they’re not voting issues,” Clinton said.

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