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Leading GOP candidates causing ‘angst’ among 2nd Amendment organizations

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://thehill.com/campaign-2008/leading-gopcandidates-causing-angst-among-2nd-amendment-organizations-2007-04-16.html Leading GOP candidates causing
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 17, 2007
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      http://thehill.com/campaign-2008/leading-gopcandidates-causing-angst-among-2nd-amendment-organizations-2007-04-16.html

      Leading GOP candidates causing ‘angst’ among 2nd
      Amendment organizations
      By Sam Youngman
      April 17, 2007

      Anti-gun control groups, sure to be back on the
      defensive after yesterday’s massacre at Virginia Tech,
      say they are having a hard time solidly backing any of
      the top-tier Republican presidential candidates.

      The only 2008 presidential candidates who have earned
      solid backing from anti-gun control groups are a
      handful of Republicans struggling to get their
      campaigns off the ground — and one Democrat.

      The first tier of Republican candidates, Sen. John
      McCain (Ariz.), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
      and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, all have been
      inconsistent on the issues near and dear to gun
      owners’ hearts, activists said.

      Only Republican Reps. Ron Paul (Texas), Duncan Hunter
      (Calif.) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, as
      well as Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.), have
      not been faulted by such groups.

      “I think there’s a lot of disappointment out there,”
      said Erich Pratt, an official with Gun Owners of
      America (GOA). “There’s a lot of angst.”

      Pratt said his group is stingy with its endorsements.
      The last presidential candidate they backed was Ronald
      Reagan, and given the current leaders of the field,
      they might not endorse this time, either.

      The group will be busy trying to educate its
      300,000-plus members as to what it sees as the
      candidates’ shortcomings, Pratt said.

      National Rifle Association (NRA) officials declined to
      talk on the record about specific candidates, but one
      official said the group has been “courted” by
      candidates on both sides of the aisle.

      The official said the group’s more than 4 million
      members are a “much sought-after voting bloc.”

      “They’re loyal, they’re savvy and they vote,” the
      official said.

      That bloc is particularly important to Republicans in
      the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and
      South Carolina. But activists with those groups say
      each leading candidate has his flaws.

      Romney’s missteps on the issue have been well
      documented of late.

      After claiming to be a lifelong NRA member, he
      admitted to having joined only last summer.

      The former governor had a similar gaffe recently when
      he told a voter in New Hampshire he had been hunting
      his whole life — before campaign aides conceded he had
      actually only been twice.

      The campaign did say, however, the governor had been
      hunting rabbits and squirrels for years.

      These and other “oops” moments, combined with Romney’s
      support of the Brady Bill and an assault-weapons ban
      during his 1994 Senate campaign, have led Pratt and
      others to question Romney’s sincerity on the issue.

      “He’s a big question mark,” Pratt said. “He [has] been
      acting and speaking like someone from New England, and
      now all of a sudden he’s singing a different tune.”

      For his part, Romney has told audiences he intends to
      seek the NRA’s endorsement. The Democratic National
      Committee (DNC) was quick to seize on Romney’s
      missteps.

      “While Romney has told audiences that he is ‘after the
      NRA’s endorsement,’ he dodged the NRA convention in
      St. Louis [last week] despite being in town at the
      same time for a fundraiser,” a DNC release said.

      In response, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said in an
      e-mail that Romney is a strong backer of the Second
      Amendment.

      “Gov. Romney strongly believes in the constitutional
      freedoms and protections that are enshrined in the
      Second Amendment,” Madden said. “Groups that are
      dedicated to protecting Second Amendment rights
      understand Gov. Romney’s commitment to preserving them
      and recognize his outreach on these issues.”

      When asked whether the campaign had suffered missteps
      in trying to promote its Second Amendment support,
      Madden said, “The important principles involved in any
      discussion of the Second Amendment can sometimes be
      cast aside in the coverage of it.”

      Madden added: “Gov. Romney’s commitment to good policy
      on these issues is readily apparent to those who are
      about the issue. That’s what is most important to
      remember and take notice of.”

      Giuliani faces similar scrutiny and mistrust from
      Second Amendment groups.

      While in office, the former mayor supported a number
      of gun-control plans, officially aimed at reducing New
      York’s high crime rate.

      “Rudy Giuliani is a strong supporter of the Second
      Amendment,” his campaign website says. “When he was
      Mayor of a city suffering an average of almost 2,000
      murders a year, he protected people by getting illegal
      handguns out of the hands of criminals. As a result,
      shootings fell by 72 percent, and the murder rate was
      cut by two-thirds.”

      But the website also states, “Rudy understands that
      what works in New York doesn’t necessarily work in
      Mississippi or Montana.”

      The Giuliani campaign did not respond to a request for
      comment.

      Meanwhile, McCain’s troubles with Second Amendment
      groups stem from his authorship of the Bipartisan
      Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, also known as
      McCain-Feingold.

      A wide range of conservative national lobbying groups,
      among them the NRA, were infuriated by what they said
      was a restriction on free speech.

      That fury has endured, and McCain still has enemies in
      the NRA and other gun-rights groups despite his
      consistently conservative voting record on gun owners’
      issues.

      Former Rep. Chuck Douglas (R-N.H.), an NRA member and
      vice chairman of McCain’s steering committee, said
      that while national lobbying groups like the NRA are
      still angry about McCain-Feingold, individual gun
      owners will recognize an ally in McCain because of his
      record.

      “That’s the one issue where the NRA as an institution
      has a beef with him,” Douglas said.

      Douglas said McCain was the first candidate to
      campaign in a New Hampshire gun store. Last weekend,
      the campaign had workers present at a gun show in
      Concord.

      “When it comes down to it, voters across the country
      realize that John McCain has worked to protect their
      right to bear arms,” McCain spokesman Danny Diaz said.

      He added: “Sen. McCain has a lifetime record of
      standing up for gun rights and gun owners, and they
      know that he is an advocate on their behalf.”

      When asked about any lingering resentment groups like
      the NRA might harbor over McCain-Feingold, Diaz said,
      “Today, as a result of the most recent election, more
      people recognize the negative impact special interest
      money has in politics and Sen. McCain’s efforts to
      fight it. Sen. McCain is taking his message directly
      to the people.”

      The campaign, in a not-so-thinly veiled shot at Team
      Romney, last week introduced their coalition of New
      Hampshire sportsmen supporting McCain.

      There is also the case of Richardson. As the only
      Democratic candidate to win an A grade from the NRA
      during his last gubernatorial race, his candidacy
      might force the group to reexamine its endorsement
      habits should he win the nomination and face off
      against one of the less popular Republicans.

      “If Bill Richardson ran against Giuliani, that would
      be something people would have to look at,” Douglas said.
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