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NRA targeting Manchin over gun legislation

After years of showering U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin with stellar ratings and campaign endorsements, the National Rifle Association targeted the West Virginia Democrat with a TV ad launched Wednesday over his continuing push for broader gun buyer background checks.

The new ad urges viewers to phone Manchin's office and tell him "to honor his commitment to the 2nd Amendment." It alleges Manchin "is working" with President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in West Virginia, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a vocal advocate of gun control laws.

Bloomberg is stepping up his gun control campaign by asking donors not to support Democratic senators who opposed a bill to expand background checks on gun buyers, while a mayors' group he co-founded is embarking on a national bus tour to rally for efforts to curb gun violence.

In a letter, Bloomberg asked New York City donors not to support Democratic senators who opposed a bill to expand background checks, which helped lead to the legislation's defeat in April. The letter names Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Begich of Alaska.

"I am writing to ask you: The next time these four senators want you to support them with donations to their campaigns, tell them you cannot," Bloomberg wrote to about 1,100 New York City residents who had contributed to the four senators. "Until they show they will stand up for the American people and not the gun lobby, tell them you cannot support their candidacy."

Manchin co-sponsored the background check measure with Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa. It would apply to buyers in commercial settings such as gun shows and online but exempt non-commercial transactions such as sales between friends and relatives.

It failed to advance on an April vote, but Manchin has since sought additional support for the measure while remaining open to revising its provisions to ease concerns of gun rights backers.

Eight relatives of the Newtown shooting victims met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., including Manchin, on Wednesday.

Asked about Bloomberg's letter, Manchin said he would prefer to see something "in more of an informational, educational and supportive role" to help build support in states with strong gun cultures.

"I know they're doing what they think is the right thing to do," Manchin told reporters in his office. "We just need more support in educating the public about the virtues of this bill."

Manchin's office did not immediately comment on the NRA ad.

The NRA plans to spend $100,000 airing it in West Virginia markets over the next two weeks, spokeswoman Jacqueline Otto said in a statement.

The killing of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., by a gunman six months ago this Friday helped spur Manchin's legislation.

 Some of the victims' families vowed to keep up the pressure for stricter gun control as they met with the lawmakers in Washington.

"This mother's heartbreak that I carry, this life sentence that I have, no one should ever have to bear this burden," said Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose daughter, Ana, was among the Sandy Hook victims.

Newtown families also met for nearly an hour Wednesday with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and others in the House, where leaders have expressed interest in strengthening mental health programs but not in expanding background checks.

"I thanked them for their courage and willingness to come forward and talk to us," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said. "I know that they're continuing to seek how to solve the problem and we're going to continue to go and to listen to them and work" on the issue, he said.

Representing a state where gun ownership and hunting are long-held traditions, Manchin has said he believed he could credibly provide reasonable proposals to the resulting debate.

The NRA ad invokes a much-discussed TV spot from Manchin's 2010 Senate campaign.

Called "Dead Aim," it shows Manchin loading a rifle as he touts his NRA backing and support of the Second Amendment. He then shoots environmental legislation sought by the Obama administration. Manchin won that special election to complete the term of the late Robert C. Byrd and was elected to a full six-year term in 2012.

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