- Jun 10, 2002
- Reaction score
Kerry Sharpens Aim on Gun Vote in Red States
By Robert B. Bluey
August 12, 2004
Four years after Al Gore alienated gun owners with his tough talk and anti-gun record, this year's Democrat presidential nominee has adopted a new strategy when it comes to firearms. John Kerry is using images to make his case to gun owners.
Before most voters were paying attention to the candidates seeking the Democrat nomination last year, Kerry had reporters and photographers trail him on the plains of central Iowa where they watched him shoot two pheasants.
Ever since that chilly October day, pictures of Kerry in his blaze orange vest with a shotgun in hand have popped up in newspapers and in one of his own campaign ads. Immediately after the hunt, Kerry mailed his supporters the image. Three months later in January, he won the Iowa caucuses.
Potential voters who see the pictures might be left with the impression that the Democrat is a hunting pal of Wayne LaPierre. But the National Rifle Association's executive vice president isn't buying Kerry's use of gun imagery.
While keeping a distance from his 19-year Senate voting record, Kerry is serving as a "poster boy" in a scheme hatched by Americans for Gun Safety (AGS), a group that has encouraged Democrats to tone down their anti-gun rhetoric, LaPierre said.
Recognizing that Gore lost three battleground states in the 2000 race - Arkansas, his home state of Tennessee and West Virginia, each by six or fewer percentage points - in part because he was unable to shed the anti-gun image, AGS and centrist Democrats vowed to reverse course.
Last October, before the first votes were cast, Democrat strategists outlined a softer message for candidates to use. Pollster Mark Penn advised Democrats to support the Second Amendment, while also advocating "closing some gun law loopholes and enforcing the laws on the books."
Americans for Gun Safety adviser Matt Bennett, a former aide to retired Gen. Wesley Clark's campaign, said he's not surprised the NRA has attacked Kerry. Although the NRA hasn't formally endorsed President Bush, it plans to continue running ads this fall highlighting Kerry's anti-gun votes.
"The interesting thing about this race is that John Kerry is no Al Gore on the gun issue," Bennett said. "John Kerry is a gun owner, he's a hunter, he's a good shot, and he's nobody's pushover on gun rights. It's going to be much harder for the NRA to pin that gun-grabber label on John Kerry."
That won't stop the NRA from trying. Spokeswoman Kelly Hobbs said all it takes is a look at Kerry's record to understand his view of the Second Amendment. And as far as the Kerry vs. Gore comparison, Hobbs said this year's Democrat nominee differs greatly.
"He's far worse," Hobbs said of Kerry. "At least Al Gore was up front with gun owners about his support for strict gun control. John Kerry, despite voting against gun owners over 50 times in the Senate, is attempting to conceal his dismal Second Amendment record with a desperate election year ploy."
The NRA is quick to note that despite frequently missing Senate votes from last September to March of this year, Kerry made sure he returned to vote to ban semi-automatic rifles, outlaw gun shows and oppose immunity for the firearms industry from so-called junk lawsuits.
Throughout his career, Kerry has consistently voted 100 percent of the time with the anti-gun Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. When he ran for re-election in 2002, the NRA gave him an "F" grade.
But when photos of Kerry and his shotgun show up in newspapers and television commercials, some gun enthusiasts might not recognize the camouflaged Kerry.
"Those kinds of events, while clearly symbolic, are important," Bennett said in defense of Kerry. "They send a signal to gun owners that says, 'Look, I share your values because I am a gun owner. I'm not going to do anything that's going to infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns.' "
The tactic is working, according to the Washington Post, which reported Monday that 42 percent of gun owners in the so-called red states believe Kerry would be a less aggressive advocate for gun control. Wins in places like Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia might be all Kerry needs to capture the White House.
(Robert B. Bluey is a staff writer for CNSNews.com.)