WASHINGTON - Before Wednesday, Sen. Joe Manchin III was not known for crafting complicated legislation.
He was known for shooting it.
That is not a metaphor. In 2010, Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, filmed a campaign ad that highlighted his outsider politics, his distance from President Obama, and his love of firearms, all in one memorable act of man-on-bill violence. He used a hunting rifle to blast a hole in a copy of Obama's favored "cap and trade" climate proposal.
On Wednesday, Manchin was at a Senate podium, playing a vastly different role. In a Senate where dealmaking is a nearly dead art, this longtime outsider had cut a deal that could pave the way for a major expansion of U.S. gun-control laws.
For Manchin, that agreement was the payoff from months of relationship-building with Republicans, including nights of pizza and beer on a senator-stuffed boat called the Black Tie. The final deal was worked out over the past week and concluded late Tuesday with a huddle at a rooftop birthday party for TV host Joe Scarborough.
There, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed to support the proposal - but to skip the news conference so his enemies would not become the bill's enemies.
The big news instead was delivered by Manchin, in his third year in the Senate, serving notice that Washington had underestimated his ambition and his flexibility.
"This is common sense," he said. "This is gun sense."
Manchin's deal was struck with two Republican senators, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania. Its most important feature is a proposal to expand background checks for gun buyers, to cover transactions at gun shows and Internet sales.
The deal does not go as far as Obama wanted, however. It exempts sales between private citizens, where no business or advertising is involved.
But it will serve as a starting point for a long Senate debate. Wednesday's deal was made because of Toomey, who got involved last Wednesday and holds an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, just like Manchin. (Schumer and Kirk's involvement was not much of a breakthrough, as both received an "F.")
"What matters to me is doing the right thing," Toomey said at Wednesday's news conference when a reporter asked if his "A" might be in jeopardy. "I think this is the right thing." The NRA said Tuesday that it opposes Toomey and Manchin's deal.
Manchin, 65, comes from small-town Farmington, W.Va., where he progressed from a BB gun to a .22 caliber rifle to bigger guns used to hunt deer. He also progressed through state politics, starting as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates in the early 1980s and eventually serving two terms as governor.
In that office, he is perhaps best known for bridging a long-running divide between coal companies and miners. After one mine disaster, Manchin helped lead a fight to require more safety precautions underground. Miners and mine owners have supported him in his Senate races.
Until recently, Manchin appeared to be one of the Senate's most unlikely leaders. In 2010, he won the seat that the late Sen. Robert Byrd, a Democrat, had held for 51 years. He became a symbol of a blue party in a reddening state and faced two elections in two years.
Back then, Manchin's survival strategy was to say little and portray himself as the Senate's least Democratic Democrat.
After winning re-election in November, though, he won't have to run again until 2018. He now has time for ambition, and - after December's mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn. - he chose to direct it toward changing gun laws.
"I find myself in a position now, coming from a gun culture . . . of credibility," Manchin said in an interview in his office on Wednesday. "If I tell a person, 'Listen, they're not going to take my guns. And if you believe that I'm going to sign on to a piece of legislation that would let them take your guns, you're sadly mistaken.' "