- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2000

RICHMOND After months of taking a beating in Northern Virginia and around the country, Charlton Heston and the National Rifle Association are reminding the state how important they still can be as king-makers.

Mr. Heston, the NRA's president, stumped in Roanoke, Chesapeake and Richmond yesterday for Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former Virginia Gov. George F. Allen.

"Forget the slogans and the sound bites. Forget all the clatter and chatter that distracts from this singular truth freedom has never seen greater peril, nor needed you more urgently to come to her defense," Mr. Heston said to wildly enthusiastic crowds of about 1,000 people, calling the crusade a "holy war."

"Vote freedom first. Vote George Bush. Vote George Allen. Everything else is a distant and forgettable second place," Mr. Heston said.

Just a few months ago, pundits were questioning whether the NRA would play any role at all, both on the national stage and here in Virginia, where Mr. Allen this summer declared he would support reauthorizing the federal assault-rifle ban he had ridiculed in the past. The NRA fought the law the first go-around.

But the NRA is looking past that disagreement, and is flexing its muscle in rural areas, where hunting is a way of life and the NRA's say-so is still the golden rule for many voters. Virginia is the state where the General Assembly, two years in a row, overwhelmingly voted to put before voters a constitutional amendment protecting their right to hunt.

So powerful are gun-rights supporters that Mr. Allen's opponent, Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb, and Mr. Bush's opponent, Vice President Al Gore, both have to repeatedly declare they don't intend to take guns away from hunters or sportsmen.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA and a Virginia native, said that's the case because the national election is turning on states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania places where the NRA's message has a large audience rather than California and New York.

Mr. Heston didn't visit Northern Virginia, even though the NRA's headquarters are in Fairfax County. That's where the state Democratic Party has been running ads criticizing Mr. Allen for vetoing a bill that would have prohibited concealed weapons in county buildings.

Mr. Allen also relaxed Virginia's concealed-weapons permitting process.

By contrast, Mr. Robb has said he wouldn't have supported the concealed-weapons bill Mr. Allen signed.

Mr. Heston also campaigned in battleground states Michigan on Tuesday and Pennsylvania on Wednesday, but with Virginia considered a safe state for Mr. Bush, Mr. Heston was likely trying to reach voters on the fence in the Robb-Allen race.

The Allen campaign appreciated the NRA's support, with a spokesman saying everyone was welcome in the campaign. But the Robb camp said the NRA rallies showed Mr. Allen hasn't moderated his position on guns and is in "the back pocket of the gun lobby."

The NRA's backing will go some way toward evening out what had been a one-sided "issues" onslaught. The Sierra Club, Handgun Control Inc. and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League have all grabbed headlines with their endorsements of Mr. Robb.

Those groups have also run ads attacking Mr. Allen's record, and just yesterday Voters for Choice, an abortion-rights group, began its ad campaign in Northern Virginia.

On Wednesday, the state Democratic Party rolled out two new television ads attacking Mr. Allen's education tax-credit plan and his record on transportation, bringing to nine the number of television ads the party has produced in the race.

The state Republican Party has produced seven ads, including the newest one linking Mr. Robb to President Clinton and criticizing them both for their opposition to Gov. James S. Gilmore III's car-tax elimination and the Republican marriage-penalty relief efforts.

Also yesterday, The Washington Post endorsed Mr. Robb, praising him for helping "steer the Senate in the right directions, often working closely with fellow Virginia Sen. John Warner on issues of special concern to the state, from military matters … to federal funding for a new Wilson Bridge."

The Post also said that Mr. Robb's temperament is better suited to the Senate than Mr. Allen's. As governor, Mr. Allen often criticized the federal government for its actions, particularly in education and environmental regulations.

The Post is the first major paper to endorse a candidate in the race.

But Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Mr. Allen's campaign, said the endorsement was no surprise.

"The Washington Post didn't endorse George Allen in 1993, they didn't endorse Jim Gilmore in 1997. There's no way they were going to endorse George Allen in 2000," he said.

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