Hunting for votes: An Ohio analysis

By Larry S. Moore

The recent MSNBC/ National Journal article “Hunting the hook and bullet vote” is certainly right on. It contains a great perspective. I urge everyone who reads this commentary to share the article with friends. It should also be shared with our legislators with the appropriate thank you note or suggestions for improved positions.

The article contains strong comparisons for Ohio. It is a roadmap for elected officials at all levels and for the state Democrat and Republican Parties. Let’s take a look a closer look at the specific suggestions and the political landscape in Ohio.

The author first got my attention by noting that there are between 38 and 58 million Americans who hunt and fish. He notes that as a group we are “politically astute”. I don’t know how many sportsmen or gun owners there are in Ohio. The Ohio Division of Wildlife counts approximately 500,000 deer hunters. How many of these are politically astute or active is unknown. What is known is that if all 500,000 deer hunters possessed a concealed handgun license, an NRA membership and were politically involved, our movement would be unstoppable.

David Rexrode, the coalition’s director for John McCain 2008, is quoted on the importance of the sportsmen vote. Many gun-owners are extremely wary of McCain’s positions. The addition of former Senator Mike DeWine to the McCain team is not going to endear any Ohio gun owners to McCain. Rexrode needs to read about authenticity.

David Saunders, a rural strategist for John Edwards, points out that Democrats have been creamed on the gun issue and they are not falling into that trap again. He says loss of habitat is the number one issue. I certainly agree that loss of habitat is a critical issue. So are my gun rights. They go hand-in-hand. I can’t hunt without my guns and I don’t have wildlife to hunt without habitat. That is the basic point as to why all hunters should have a CHL and be involved in gun rights as well as the conservation issues. Certainly sportsmen should be astute enough to see through that smoke screen. While the national Democrats are trying to avoid falling into the gun issue trap, sportsmen had better make sure where the candidate stands before being trapped into a vote.

The article identifies key areas of coalition building and authenticity. The November 2006 election between now Governor Strickland and then Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is a perfect case study.

Early on the group “Sportsmen for Strickland” got organized and quickly gathered momentum. A successful campaign takes enthusiasm for the cause and knowledge. Or, as the author states, authenticity matters. The leadership of Sportsmen for Strickland knew what they were about. They knew the issues, the turf, the sportsmen organizations and they took it across Ohio to the grass roots.

Meanwhile the Blackwell campaign appointed a lower level campaign worker to head their “Sportsmen for Blackwell” efforts. Apparently the Blackwell campaign had no database of sportsmen events, clubs, organizations or issues. I know because I was approached for all that information. I spent several hours explaining gun, hunting and conservation issues. Clearly the leadership of Sportsmen For Blackwell did not have the experience, knowledge, enthusiasm, or authenticity on the issues.

The positions of the two candidates were not hugely different. It doesn’t matter which side anyone took during the election. It is abundantly clear that the Sportsmen for Strickland were well positioned, equipped and knowledgeable to connect to grass roots sportsmen from the most private hunt clubs and skeet ranges to the most rural good ole’boy location.

The Sportsmen for Strickland effort was certainly successful. They captured a good portion of the sportsmen/gun owner vote. In the process they managed to seriously erode what many had considered to be a safe base for the Republicans. The message context and sincerity both mattered. Most sportsmen, whether gun-traders, dog-traders or huntin’ and fishin’ tale-tellers, can spot the “BS” from a long ways off.

The Democrat Party is better positioned to retain sportsmen votes that at any time in recent history. Their biggest challenge comes from within the party in the form of the big city mayors. These mayors remain staunchly anti-gun. The leadership of the Democrat Party, Governor Strickland, and the Sportsmen for Strickland should send a message to the mayors. That message is many sportsmen and gun owners live in the city, this is our constituency base to win, as a party we’ve done it your way for over 30 years and it has not worked, now is the time to do something different.

The Republican Party also faces some serious issues. One area of strength is in the General Assembly where they retain control. It is here that the individual legislators are in touch with their constituents concerns. Senators Padgett and Buehrer, along with Representative Latta, co-hosted the US Sportsmen Alliance reception. They have championed our issues, speak our language – they have authenticity on the issues. The Republican Party should build on this grass roots connection. Candidates must be recruited at all levels that connect to the sportsmen/gun owner base. It is up to the leadership of the Ohio Republican Party to reconnect to that base.

Finally sportsmen and gun owners face challenges. Never has our future been as bright as it is right now. The record number of legislators, new faces and old friends, that turned out for the USSA reception is proof. I even saw a number of faces, while not new to the General Assembly, were certainly new to visiting the sportsmen reception.

If you’ve stayed with me this far, then I am preaching to the choir. It is up to each gun owner to add one hunter to the membership rolls of the NRA and gun activist ledger. Hunters, it is up to you to take one gun owner, perhaps a trap shooter or tactical shooter, off the range and go hunting. We need to embrace each other. Just as I need habitat and guns for successful hunting, I need my Camp Perry CMP or Ohio State trap shooters to buy a hunting license and get outdoors. As a gun owner activist I need every hunter to join ranks to protect the right to keep and bear arms and get their concealed handgun license. Numbers matter in politics.

Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a Region Leader for Buckeye Firearms Association and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award.

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