West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is quietly reaching out to the NRA in order to win its approval of some kind of expanded background check for gun purchasers.
That the NRA is even talking with Manchin suggests there's at least some room for negotiation for the group - despite its public posture against tougher gun laws, several sources say.
And if successful, a Manchin-NRA deal could draw in enough Republicans and red-state Democrats to defeat an expected GOP filibuster of the overall gun control bill when it hits the floor next month.
The move marks a new approach for the conservative West Virginia Democrat and could prove a pivotal moment in the gun control debate. For several weeks, the NRA ally and hunting enthusiast has been trying to win over GOP senators, but so far many Republicans have been squeamish for a variety of reasons -- namely over calls to require retailers to keep background check records.
But if the NRA stays neutral and decides not to "score" a vote for a Manchin plan on its annual scorecard, Manchin -- and the overall bill -- would have a much better chance.
Manchin, who calls himself a "proud West Virginia NRA member," declined to discuss his negotiations with the group.
"I'm not giving up. We're talking to everybody. I mean everybody," Manchin told POLITICO. "We recognize that something needs to be done -- responsible and reasonable. So many take an approach where you own a gun, someone that owns a gun, something is wrong with you. I don't know anybody that doesn't own a gun."
In a statement, Manchin added his efforts are "dedicated to preventing criminals and those adjudicated mentally ill from purchasing firearms, and not criminalizing law-abiding gun owners."
It's not clear how many Republicans Manchin could peel away and vote for more background checks . He would need at least 5 in order to defeat a filibuster attempt. I don't think he has that many right now, but if the NRA doesn't score the vote, it's possible he will get what he wants.
At the moment, gun control is far down the voter's list of priorities. But that may change the closer we get to a vote.