Sen. Pat Toomey got some unexpected good news in the form of what looked like bad news. He's lost the endorsement of the NRA, which he had six years ago in his first campaign for the U.S. Senate.
My theory is that's good news, despite the NRA being a feared lobbying group with an estimated (because the NRA won't say) 250,000 members in Pennsylvania. But Pennsylvania's population is more than 12 million.
Toomey's NRA rating went from A six years ago to C today, according to the AP. I contacted NRA for that news release and for comment and, as usual, despite a promise to respond, it did not. It is believed Pennsylvania's NRA membership is second highest behind Texas.
Despite the NRA's power, I believe it backing away from the incumbent Republican is good news for him, kind of like throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch.
The slap at Toomey will not send NRA members sailing into the arms of Democrat Katie McGinty while it makes Toomey more palatable to moderates.
"I wonder if Pat Toomey paid the NRA to not endorse him," speculates long-time political observer Larry Ceisler with a smirk I could feel over the phone.
"I think this goes with the Toomey campaign strategy of positioning himself as a moderate to appeal to suburban Philadelphia voters," Ceisler says. Trying to appeal to moderates and independents is one reason Toomey has not yet endorsed Republican nominee Donald Trump, and given the latest controversy, is unlikely to endorse him at all.
Our region is important because about one-third of Pennsylvania's population lives in Philadelphia and the bedroom counties of Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks and Chester.
The anti-gun fever found in some of Philadelphia isn't as strong across the city line.
Maybe because they have fewer gun crimes. Another theory of mine.
But wait! Is it possible Philly isn't as anti-gun as it seems from the public utterances of elected officials?
"Philadelphia still sells more hunting licenses than any other county," says NRA Life Member Jon Mirowitz, an attorney who specializes in gun law.
Despite his unyielding opposition to any form of gun control, Mirowitz says, "I don't cast an NRA ballot," but wouldn't reveal who he would vote for.
His problem with background checks, he says, is "30 percent of the data base is inaccurate, stopping people who should not have been stopped."
That's why he - and the NRA - opposed Manchin-Toomey, the bipartisan 2013 bill to expand background checks that was approved by 90 percent of the American people and even by a clear majority of current and former NRA members.
Ceisler suspects Toomey's agreement to co-sponsor the bill was him calculating what might help him win re-election. That's cynical, but possible. I credit Toomey with honest intentions.
The bill was a failure for West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Toomey, but it blossomed into a political bouquet for the Pennsylvanian.
Because of his efforts, he was rewarded this year by endorsements from Michael Bloomberg and former Democratic U.S. Rep Gabby Giffords, both of whom support background checks. I think they endorsed Toomey to encourage other conservatives to shore up the courage to join their support of background checks.
You know who else supported background checks, asks Terry Madonna, who runs the Franklin and Marshal polling organization, and whose general political knowledge is encyclopedic?
"In 1995, the NRA supported a background check in Pennsylvania, passed by a Republican legislature and signed by a Republican governor, Tom Ridge," he says.
That was before the NRA got that old-time gun religion and turned itself into the retrograde organization it is today.
"When background checks under Manchin-Toomey were introduced," says Madonna, "there was no blowback from the gun-owning voters."
Naturally, Mirowitz disagrees. "I know people were annoyed at Toomey when he came up with that bill."
Yes, hard-line NRA people, but Madonna did polling that included everyone, so his stats are more reflective of the whole.
Mirowitz says he doesn't know if the NRA's displeasure will help or hurt Toomey. However, McGinty "is running attack ads against Toomey that he is a tool of the NRA," he says, and Toomey's C "takes the wind out of the sails that he is a tool of the NRA."
And that's why I think Toomey's passing grade of C will translate to a surpassing political grade of A.