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 has countered this 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 Monday 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 anti-gun record.”
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 Monday.
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 becomes president.
Mr. Obama strongly denied during a campaign appearance in Lebanon, Va., on Wednesday 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.”