Media brings gun issue to forefront in campaign coverage; Latest poll shows gubernatorial race tightening

by Chad D. Baus

For much of the 2010 campaign season, the economy has dominated voters' thoughts as to their plans for the voting booth - far outweighing factors that often make the difference in close elections. But with The Dayton Daily News reporting that poll numbers between John Kasich and Ted Strickland have closed to within just four points, the gun issue could again become a deciding factor. [UPDATE: A Fox News poll is also confirming the race is narrowing - down to a 2 point gap and within the margin of error.] [UPDATE #2: A New York Times/CBS News poll is also confirming the race is very close - just a 1 point gap among likely voters.]

The race is tightening just as differences between Strickland and Kasich on the gun issue are receiving increased attention in both the state and national media.

First, from The Dayton Daily News, in an article entitled "Governor touts gun record at Sportsman's Club":

Strickland is a rare democrat who has received the support of the National Rifle Association, a fact Strickland didn’t shy away from as he visited the trap shooting range. A large trailer noting the NRA endorsement sat in front of the Sportsmen's Club complex, while members of Strickland's support staff wore button's citing the same.

"My record shows I am a strong supporter of the second amendment," Strickland said. "I voted against the assault weapon ban and have always supported the rights of people to have firearms as well as supporting hunting, fishing, and trapping."

John Kasich, Strickland's republican opponent, also supports gun owner's rights, according to his website.

Although Strickland did not shoot a rifle on this day, he said he had been a hunter as a child and helped start a statewide youth turkey hunting trip during his time as governor.

Strickland said that he had no qualms about appearing in traditionally conservative Butler County.

"Conservatives ought to vote for me," Strickland said, citing his efforts to cut taxes, reduce government and his support of the Second Amendment.

The DDN article goes on to say that poll numbers released Monday showed Strickland closing on Kasich. While earlier polls have shown a double-digit spread, the newest numbers showed 49 percent in favor of Kasich and 45 percent favoring Strickland. [UPDATE: As noted above, two other polls now also confirm the race has narrowed considerably.]

In Ohio alone, approximately 1/2 million people have hunting and/ or concealed handgun licenses. And according to The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Dennis Anderson, Ohio gun owners made up 27 percent of the total vote in Ohio in the year 2000. The closer the race between Strickland and Kasich is, the more significant the gun vote becomes.

The Columbus Dispatch also provided coverage of the gun issue as it pertains gubernatorial race over the weekend. From the article, entitled "Strickland's A from NRA enough?:

More than 600 sportsmen, many of them leaders of outdoors groups across the state, listened to Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and his Republican opponent, John Kasich, make pitches for their support at the 14th annual U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance meeting at the Aladdin Shrine Temple on the Northeast Side.

Strickland brandished his endorsement and A rating from the National Rifle Association, a designation that might have given him a leg up with the sportsmen, according to Rob Sexton, the alliance's vice president.

"I think he is trusted by people in this house because he has such a strong track record," Sexton said. The NRA endorsement "is one more weight on the scale for him. ... He cuts into what is a pretty darn conservative group."

But Sexton said the sportsmen, like other Ohioans, are worried about the economy, and on that score, "there's an openness to hear what Kasich has to say."

...In his remarks to the sportsmen, Strickland trumpeted his record on gun rights and said, "I've protected wildlife funding through two very difficult budgets."

When it endorsed Strickland in June, the NRA noted that, while a member of Congress, Kasich had voted for a ban on assault weapons in former President Bill Clinton's 1994 crime bill and received an F rating from the NRA that year.

The NRA also said Kasich voted twice in 1999 to increase background checks aimed at closing down gun shows and has voted for bans on deer and big-game hunting.

But in his speech to the sportsmen, Kasich asserted his support for gun and hunting rights, saying, "I've had more disagreements with my wife than I've had with the NRA. I'm a Second Amendment supporter, and don't let anyone tell you different than that."

Taking aim at Kasich, Strickland told the crowd: "You've never had to ask where I stood on the rights guaranteed to us by the Second Amendment. I've never had to try to explain away or justify my record on these issues."

Strickland also referred to his NRA endorsement during two stops in southern Ohio yesterday as part of rallies to kick off a four-day bus tour with other statewide Democratic candidates to promote the start of early absentee voting on Tuesday.

Spotting a couple wearing red tea party T-shirts during a rally in Yoctangee Park in Chillicothe, Strickland pointed out that the Second Amendment is important to the tea party movement.

"Guess which candidate is endorsed by the National Rifle Association? Ted Strickland, not John Kasich," the governor said. "So how could the tea partier who really values the Second Amendment vote for a guy who got an F when he was in Congress from the NRA?"

It is clear from his comments that Strickland seeks to highlight a conundrum that has dogged conservative voters, most of which are also gun owners. That problem was highlighted in a recent interview with the NRA-ILA's Chris Cox conducted by The National Review's Jim Geraghty, and entitled "Staying on Target":

JIM GERAGHTY: The tea parties, supporters of limited government and staunch defenders of Constitutional rights, seem like a very pro–Second Amendment crowd. But because they’re motivated by many issues beyond gun rights, they may not be as enamored with the pro-gun Democrats you endorse. Is there any tension with the tea-party movement?

CHRIS COX: What you're seeing is an explosion of political activism based on concerns about liberty, and I think it's fantastic. I'd like to see it every two years, when we're urging gun owners go to the polls and "Vote Freedom First." That excitement turns into a motivated voter base, and that's great for democracy. The tea party proudly supports freedom, and all of the ones I've talked to support the Second Amendment.

It's worth remembering this year that a lot of races in this election cycle will be ones where we have clear differences and clear choices: Roy Blunt against Robin Carnahan in Missouri, Rob Portman against Lee Fisher in Ohio, Dino Rossi against Patty Murray in Washington, Pat Toomey versus Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania. There are races all over this country where gun owners have a clear choice.

Geraghty also spoke to Cox specifically about the Ohio gubernatorial race:

JIM GERAGHTY: In Ohio, you endorsed the current governor, Democrat Ted Strickland. You guys can read polls, and it seems clear that Republican John Kasich is favored in that race. How much of that decision was Strickland being good on that issue and how much was John Kasich's 1994 vote for the assault-weapons ban? Kasich says he regrets the vote, insists he is resolutely pro-gun now. How long do you guys hold a bad vote against a lawmaker?

CHRIS COX: With regard to the Ohio governor's race, that's a reflection of our incumbent-friendly policy. Based on his strong, consistent Second Amendment support, Governor Strickland would have received our endorsement regardless of who ran against him.

I don't want to disparage John Kasich. When you have a lawmaker who has made votes in the past, and who's changed, we're appreciative of that change, but we're not in a position where we have the luxury of ignoring major votes in the past. Would we work with him if he wins? Of course.

As Cox noted, the gun issue is also playing into races for U.S. Senate seats, including the contest in Ohio between Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Lee Fisher.

From an article by David Kopel in The New Ledger, entitled Gun Rights and the 2010 Senate Elections":

Will the 2011 Senate be friendlier to the Second Amendment than the current Senate? While the 2010 election will result in gains for Republicans, both parties contain pro-rights and anti-rights candidates. In 2006 and 2008, this meant that the anti-Republican deluge did little harm to the net numbers of Second Amendment supporters in Congress.

While some conservatives wish that the NRA would not support pro-gun Democrats, the long-term survival of the right to keep and bear arms depends on gun rights having friends in both major parties. We saw what happened during the George H.W. Bush administration, when the White House believed that gun owners had nowhere else to go, and so Republicans could triangulate to support some anti-gun laws.

This year, if N = the number of Republican Senate gains, then the pro-gun gain will probably be more than ½ N, but less than N. This gain could be significant, because it would produce enough pro-rights Senators to defeat a filibuster. On the other hand, if 2011 brings us a Democrat-controlled Senate with a Majority Leader other than Harry Reid, pro-Second Amendment bills will never get a vote.

So moving from East to West, let's examine the races, taking into account the NRA grades that the candidates have received in present or past elections.

...Ohio: Retiring Republican George Voinovich (D in 2004) almost always voted wrong. Polls show Republican Rob Portman, who compiled a solid record in the U.S. House (A in 2004 House re-election) opening up a lead on Democrat Lee Fisher (F in 2006 Lt. Gov. win). Fisher has previously served as a Board member of Handgun Control, Inc., which at the time was the nation’s leading gun control lobby. (Now supplanted by Michael Bloomberg's organization "Mayors Against Illegal Guns.")

...In sum: Whatever the size of the pro-gun gains in the Senate, the Second Amendment may be worse off in the 2011-12 Senate if Charles Schumer or Dick Durbin are in charge. Anti-rights legislation would be assigned to committees where it will get favorable and highly-publicized hearings, and be ready for floor action if circumstances gave it a chance of passage.

Thus, a Republican gain of less than 10 seats, coupled with the defeat of Harry Reid, could leave Second Amendment rights in the Senate in a worse position than today. The good news is that, unless the President decides to invest significant political capital, there would be little chance for passage of anti-gun legislation.

No matter how some of the more interesting races turn out, the overall point remains largely as Mr. Cox put it to The National Review:

"There are a lot of Democrats who are going to lose, we all know that, but not one is going to lose because of their stance on the Second Amendment. And when pro-gun Democrats are going down to defeat, they're going to be replaced by pro–Second Amendment Republicans, and we support politicians who support the Second Amendment regardless of party.

The Second Amendment has to be protected and promoted, no matter which party is in power and no matter which way the political winds blow."

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

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