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On a gun bill, Manchin hit his D.C. stride

America's heartfelt desire to "do something" following the Sandy Hook massacre led us to a debate about gun control in this country.

That likely peaked (for now at least) on the Senate floor Wednesday with the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was central to the fracas, taking the lead on legislation that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases to include non-licensed sellers.

It was, in fact, a modest proposal, and one that, if nothing else, would have brought some consistency to gun purchasing rules.

I have no doubt Manchin is sincere. He tends to wear his heart on his sleeve, and he was deeply moved by the tragedy in Newtown.

Also, Man-chin is, at his core, a salesman. He is energized by the challenge of doing the difficult deal.

He came close - the amendment failed 54-46 on a cloture vote where 60 votes were needed - and he pledges to try again.

"The fight's not over," Manchin told me on MetroNews Talkline Thursday.

Manchin's efforts earned him high praise from some on the left.

The senator has become a favorite on the Morning Joe program on MSNBC, where the hosts called him heroic for taking on the NRA. President Obama praised Manchin and Toomey for their efforts to pass a gun bill.

One reason Manchin emerged as a player in the debate is that the gun control advocates were particularly inept following Newtown. It took four months after the second worst mass murder in the country's history to even get a watered-down bill to the Senate floor.

The president spent a considerable amount of re-election capital on the gun issue and came away with nothing.

The backers of more control won't be so ill prepared next time.  They'll have a bill in the hopper, and they'll go deep.

If (God forbid) it happens in the near future, the media will still have Manchin on speed dial and they'll want to know what he has to say. He'll have a decision to make.

Manchin has not forgotten that he comes from a state where large segments of the population trust the National Rifle Association newsletter more than the New York Times. The blowback from the gun rights folks against the senator in recent weeks has been substantial.

Certainly he knows that he can only go so far on gun control before causing real political damage on the home front.

Still Manchin, who was initially frustrated by the dilatory nature of the Senate following the frenetic pace of the governorship, appeared to hit D.C. stride with the gun debate.

The national media embraced him, and his folksy charm cut through Washington's prevailing partisanship and cynicism.

It's easy to become enamored with the limelight. But the media inside the beltway are fickle; today's hero is tomorrow's goat. And the massive power that permeates the city causes allegiances to be recalibrated quickly.

Next time, it may not be so easy for Manchin to please his new admirers in Washington without letting down his old friends back home.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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