- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

The National Rifle Association yesterday endorsed Republican Jerry W. Kilgore to be Virginia’s next governor, while members of a key gun-rights lobby fumed over remarks about their leadership made by the Kilgore campaign.

The NRA, based in Virginia, gave Mr. Kilgore, the former state attorney general, an “A” rating and Democrat Timothy M. Kaine, the lieutenant governor, an “F.”

“Jerry Kilgore is the one candidate that will stand for the Second Amendment and for the honor and freedom to own guns,” said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, who joined Mr. Kilgore on a statewide fly-around tour to announce the endorsement.

But some grass-roots members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) say they will not vote for Mr. Kilgore Nov. 8 because one of his staffers said the VCDL’s president has “no credibility” on Second Amendment issues.

“I am pro-life, reeling from the great tax hike of 2004, a staunch Second Amendment defender and wild horses could not drag me to vote for Kilgore,” said Mike Downey, a Colonial Beach resident.

The gubernatorial race has tightened, with recent polls showing Mr. Kilgore and Mr. Kaine tied and few Virginians undecided. The election could be decided by a few thousand votes.

The Washington Times reported Saturday that the VCDL won’t make an endorsement in the race because Mr. Kilgore failed to submit its survey, which includes questions about where candidates stand on efforts to repeal a ban on concealed weapons in bars. VCDL wants to repeal the ban.

Kilgore spokesman Tucker Martin said the candidate has “great respect” for VCDL members but would not submit the survey because “their president, Philip Van Cleave, unfortunately has no credibility on Second Amendment issues.”

Yesterday, Mr. Kilgore said he does not personally know Mr. Van Cleave but members of his staff do.

“I don’t want [VCDL members] to take it as an insult,” he said. “I just want them to look at our records and move beyond this and recognize which candidate is the candidate that supports gun owners’ rights. They don’t need a survey to decide that.”

VCDL does nearly all of the gun-rights lobbying during the General Assembly session each year. Its political action committee endorses races for the House of Delegates, and most of those candidates turned in surveys. The 11-year-old group has 3,000 members, and its newsletter reaches more than 7,000 people statewide.

“Philip is more than just a little bit credible,” said Steve Clifford, a car dealer from Woodbridge, Va. “The NRA really hasn’t done half of the things in Virginia that Philip Van Cleave has. He walks the halls in Richmond and actually gets stuff done. That makes him more than credible on the state and local issues.”

The Kilgore campaign’s comments also sparked nearly 300 angry posts on two pro-gun Web sites, Packing.org and AR15.com. The Times has spoken with a dozen VCDL members from around the state — all Republicans or self-described “conservatives” — who said they won’t vote for Mr. Kilgore this year.

“Especially in Virginia, governors come and go,” said Larry Sudduth, a lifelong Republican who lives in Arlington. “Kilgore would have been my choice for governor up until the comments denigrating Van Cleave.”

NRA recruiter Bruce Jackson of Stafford said he is considering voting for Mr. Kaine, even though he’s never voted for a Democrat.

“The insult was just as wrong as wrong could be,” he said.

Some VCDL members have started an unofficial write-in campaign for Mr. Van Cleave, complete with bumper stickers.

The NRA boasts about 100,000 Virginia members. Many VCDL members are also NRA members.

The NRA endorsement could prove key. The group declined an endorsement in the 2001 race between Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Mark Earley. The VCDL also did not endorse anyone in that race.

The gubernatorial candidates with NRA endorsements in 1993 and 1997 won their races.

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