Washington - Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy kicked off a campaign Tuesday aimed at convincing wavering colleagues that the National Rifle Association has little political clout.
"This isn't your father's NRA," said Murphy, a Democrat who has co-sponsored a bill that would reinstate an assault weapons ban.
As proof the NRA lacks fangs, Murphy released a report called 'Washington's Paper Tiger: A Look at the NRA's Ineffective Political Spending."
The report said only two of 10 Senate candidates the NRA spent money to oppose -- including Murphy--lost elections last year. The report also said only two of 13 candidates the NRA supported won their elections last year.
The NRA spent more than $10 million opposing President Obama and $2.7 million supporting the president's Republican rival, Mitt Romney. Yet Obama handily won re-election, the report said.
"The NRA's reputation as an unstoppable force is one of the biggest misperceptions in Washington," Murphy's report said. "Members of Congress should not feel beholden to an organization that holds only perceived power and not actual clout."
The NRA disputes that, saying its 4 million members and huge campaign cash coffer makes the group a formidable force.
Since 2011, the NRA spent at least $24.28 million on federal campaigns and another $7.5 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action.
The organization also rates all members of Congress in an annual report card. Murphy may not care if he has low marks from the NRA, but most Republicans do because the gun group has threatened to back primary rivals with better gun rights records. Democrats from rural states and from the West are also feel vulnerable to attacks from the NRA. These are the members Murphy is trying to reach.
"There's nothing to fear when it comes to the modern NRA," Murphy said.
Murphy's report, which he said is only the first in a series of studies Murphy will release on the ineffectiveness of the national gun lobby, also said the NRA leadership in Washington has lost touch with its base.
"Instead of representing its members, the NRA continues to be an extension of the Republican Party," the report said.
About 70 percent of the NRA' campaign contributions went to Republicans, many of them to GOP members of the House of Representatives, where gun control legislation is most endangered.
But even in the Senate, supporters of gun control face formidable obstacles.
As many as 12 Democratic senators from rural and Western states with strong gun cultures have not committed to supporting their colleagues' gun control legislation.
Some of those Democrats, including Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, face re-election in 2014.
To end an expected Republican-led filibuster of the legislation, all Senate Democrats and the chamber's two independents would have to vote against it as well as five Republicans. Only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has voiced support for an assault weapons ban.
Murphy said he speaks to a Democratic or Republican senator every day about the tragedy in Newtown that is driving the gun control debate.
When he was a House member, Murphy represented the town where 20 children and their teachers were gunned down.
"Obviously I have a very personal perspective," Murphy said. "I've certainly been reaching out to Democrats who have been reluctant to support gun legislation in the past."
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first hearing on proposed gun control legislation Wednesday.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, one of the witnesses asked to attend, released his prepared testimony Tuesday.
LaPierre repeated calls for armed guards in the schools and better enforcement of existing gun control laws.
He said a previous ban on assault weapon did nothing to reduce crime. "They are among the most popular guns made for hunting, target shooting and self-defense."
LaPierre also said a proposal to expand background check would be useless "because criminals will never submit to them."