GOP gun­ning for a wedge is­sue

Obama run res­ur­rects gun con­trol is­sue

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DON­ALD LAM­BRO

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Sen. Barack Obama’s hopes for car­ry­ing Mon­tana have di­min­ished over the past few months, and Mon­tanans say it comes down to one word: guns.

“In Mon­tana, we like our guns. We like big guns. We like lit­tle guns. We like shot­guns. We like pis­tols. Most of us own two or three guns. Gun con­trol is hit­ting what you shoot at,” the state’s Demo­cratic Gov. Brian Sch­weitzer told the New York Times in April. When asked why he thought the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee would not win his state, he replied, “guns.”

Af­ter Al Gore nar­rowly lost the 2000 elec­tion, Pres­i­dent Clin­ton said his sup­port for gun con­trol was partly to blame for his de­feat. Then-Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Terry McAuliffe urged his party to aban­don gun con­trol is­sues in fu­ture cam­paigns. “I be­lieve we ought to move it out, let the in­di­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ties de­cide their gun laws and how guns ought to be treated,” he said at the time.

Democrats had hoped to put the is­sue be­hind them, with 2004 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Sen. John Kerry go­ing so far as to stage a cam­paign stop in Ohio to go goose hunt­ing — and suf­fer­ing at the hands of pun­dits who mocked him for pan­der­ing.

This year, Mr. Obama’s vot­ing record, cou­pled with that of run­ning mate Sen. Joseph R. Bi­den Jr. of Delaware, has res­ur­rected the gun is­sue, and John McCain’s cam­paign sees it as a ma­jor wedge is­sue to win over gun-own­ing swing Democrats and work­ing­class union mem­bers in key Demo- cratic bas­tions.

“Ab­so­lutely, we’re go­ing to em­pha­size guns and the Sec­ond Amend­ment. They’re fun­da­men­tal is­sues for Democrats, in­de­pen­dents and Repub­li­cans in the bat­tle­ground states that will de­cide this elec­tion,” said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.

Mr. McCain has com­piled a largely pro-gun vot­ing record in the Se­nate, but he has had some dif­fer­ences with the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion on his sup­port for back­ground checks at gun shows and his cam­paign fi­nance re­form law, which re­stricts cer­tain cam­paign TV ads among ad­vo­cacy groups such as the NRA. More re­cently, though, his se­lec­tion of run­ning-mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a hunter and NRA mem­ber, has boosted his stand­ing.

“We’ve had some dis­agree­ments, and every­one knows what they are. We have agreed to dis­agree,” NRA Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of- fi­cer Wayne LaPierre said. “But we’d be fool­ish to ig­nore the vast num­bers of ar­eas where John McCain has been a friend to gun own­ers and sports­men.”

McCain: Voted against a ban on as­sault-type weapons but is in fa­vor of re­quir­ing back­ground checks at gun shows. Voted to shield gun mak­ers and dealers from civil suits. “I be­lieve the Sec­ond Amend­ment ought to be pre­served — which means no gun con­trol.”

Obama: Voted to leave gun mak­ers and dealers open to suit. Also, as an Illi­nois state law­maker, sup­ported a ban on all forms of semi­au­to­matic weapons and tighter state re­stric­tions gen­er­ally on firearms.

The McCain cam­paign has been telling vot­ers in Mon­tana and else­where about the pro-gun-con­trol vot­ing record com­piled by Mr. Obama and Mr. Bi­den. The re­sult was a Ras­mussen state poll in Mon­tana last week that showed Mr. Obama trail­ing his Repub­li­can ri­val by 53 per­cent to 42 per­cent.

Demo­cratic strate­gist Si­mon Rosen­berg, who heads the New Demo­crat Net­work, re­leased a new set of polls Sept. 10 that showed Mon­tana was among sev­eral Demo­cratic tar­get states that “seems to be drift­ing back into the GOP camp.”

Supreme court rul­ing

Gun con­trol is­sues re­turned to the spot­light with the Supreme Court’s June 26 rul­ing strik­ing down the District’s hand­gun ban.

Mr. McCain hailed the de­ci­sion as “a land­mark victory for Sec­ond Amend­ment free­dom.” Mr. Obama strad­dled the is­sue, say­ing he fa­vored an in­di­vid­ual’s right to keep and bear firearms but also the gov­ern­ment’s right to reg­u­late them: “I also iden­tify with the need for crime-rav­aged com­mu­ni­ties to save their chil­dren from the vio- lence that plagues our streets through com­mon-sense, ef­fec­tive safety mea­sures,” he said.

As a state se­na­tor in Illi­nois, he voted for a broad range of gun con­trol mea­sures and sup­ported the District’s and Chicago’s gun bans. The NRA has given his vot­ing record an F grade.

Mr. Obama coun­tered last week by run­ning ra­dio ads nar­rated by Ray Schoenke, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Hun­ters and Shoot­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, which backs his can­di­dacy, say­ing the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee does not op­pose gun own­er­ship. Mr. Schoenke is a for­mer Demo­cratic can­di­date for Mary­land gov­er­nor, and Repub­li­cans say his group is a front for Democrats.

Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee spokesman Alex Co­nant said Sept. 8 that Mr. Obama “is the most “anti-gun pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in Amer­i­can his­tory. Now he is us­ing a Demo­cratic front group to try to fool peo­ple about his an­ti­gun record.”

Warn­ing shot

The NRA boasts slightly fewer than 4 mil­lion mem­bers, but that num­ber sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­states its abil­ity to mo­bi­lize tens of mil­lions of other gun own­ers, hun­ters and sports­men in pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns in large swaths of the na­tion’s ru­ral coun­try in the Mid­west, South and West and the ru­ral North­east that has helped Repub­li­cans win seven out of the past 10

pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

In 2000, for ex­am­ple, the NRA mounted a mas­sive di­rect-mail and TV/ra­dio cam­paign against Mr. Gore’s can­di­dacy and his gun con­trol vot­ing record. Voter exit polls in that elec­tion showed that about 48 per­cent of all vot­ers owned guns that year, up from 37 per­cent in 1996.

NRA of­fi­cials say the gun is­sue has trac­tion across the coun­try, es­pe­cially among union house­holds that are heav­ily Demo­cratic. “Polls show that gun own­er­ship in union house­holds runs from a low of 48 per­cent in Cal­i­for­nia to 90 per­cent in states like West Vir­ginia, Ten­nessee, Mis­souri, Penn­syl­va­nia, Ne­vada and places like that,” Mr. LaPierre said.

NRA Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Chris Cox said his or­ga­ni­za­tion will spend “what­ever our mem­bers send us” and mount a ma­jor na­tional cam­paign against the Obama-Bi­den ticket that will in­clude field staff in 15 bat­tle­ground states, the regis­tra­tion of new gun own­ers to vote, and a mas­sive out­reach ef­fort.

“We will over the next 10 days have con­tacted over a mil­lion reg­is­tered gun own­ers, and we’re launch­ing our Obama gun ban Web site that will al­low our sup­port­ers to see ads we are run­ning all over the coun­try,” Mr. Cox said Sept. 15.

Mr. Sch­weitzer ’s warn­ing about his state could well ap­ply to a num­ber of other bat­tle­ground states.

In heav­ily Demo­cratic Michi­gan, for ex­am­ple, where Mr. Obama is in a vir­tual tie with Mr. McCain, guns re­main a touchy sub­ject with many vot­ers, es­pe­cially blue-col­lar union mem­bers on whom the Obama cam­paign is count­ing to de­liver the state.

Michi­gan poll­ster Bernie Porn, pres­i­dent of EPIC/MRA, said that with the state’s econ­omy in a sham­bles, gun con­trol isn’t on the list of is­sues that vot­ers cite as main con­cerns. Nev­er­the­less, he notes that “the state has one of the high­est gun own­er­ship rates in the coun­try” and that in a down­beat econ­omy where Mr. Obama should be do­ing well, “he is un­der­per­form­ing among union mem­bers and other folks with hunt­ing back­grounds.”

The McCain cam­paign has been send­ing out e-mails and other mail­ings charg­ing that both Mr. Obama and Mr. Bi­den have been “con­sis­tently anti-gun” and have sup­ported nu­mer­ous gun con­trol bills through­out their ca­reers. Nei­ther Demo­crat signed a “friend of the court” brief sup­port­ing the case that led the Supreme Court in June to strike down the District’s gun ban — though 77 Democrats did.

In one e-mail, the McCain cam­paign charges that Mr. Obama has been a sup­porter of gun bans in the past and is “poised to roll back Sec­ond Amend­ment rights” if he be- comes pres­i­dent.

Mr. Obama strongly de­nied dur­ing a cam­paign ap­pear­ance in Le­banon, Va., on Sept. 10 that he in­tends to take away any­one’s shot­guns, ri­fles or hand­guns, but the NRA put out a fact sheet on his leg­isla­tive record im­me­di­ately af­ter his re­marks, say­ing that “Obama’s words on the cam­paign trail do not match his long record of op­pos­ing law­ful gun own­er­ship.”

“He has sup­ported bans on hand­guns and semi-au­to­matic as­sault firearms, and he has voted to ban pos­ses­sion of many shot­guns and ri­fles com­monly used by hun­ters and sports­men across Amer­ica. And we will re­mind vot­ers ev­ery sin­gle time he lies.”

Vul­ner­a­ble on this is­sue? Sen. Barack Obama

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