- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

The National Rifle Association has mailed a report card grading candidates for every state office on Virginia's ballot except governor, leaving Democrat Mark R. Warner to claim a victory of sorts over Republican Mark L. Earley among gun-rights supporters.
NRA officials included the candidates' names in their report, which has been mailed to Virginia members inside an association magazine, but didn't grade them or offer an endorsement. They said the magazine went to press a couple of weeks ago, before they had a chance to watch the candidates compete in two key debates.
As of yesterday, the association hadn't chosen between endorsing Mr. Earley or staying neutral, said Randy Kozuch, director of state and local legislative matters.
At this point, though, it may be too late for it to make much difference with an endorsement, especially with Mr. Warner yesterday touting the organization's silence as evidence that his campaign to woo gun-rights supporters has worked.
"The fact that 20 days before the election the NRA has not embraced the Republican candidate sends a very clear message that Mark Warner's outreach is paying off," said Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for Mr. Warner.
But Mr. Earley's campaigners say it's not over yet.
"I am holding out hope for an endorsement," said Christopher LaCivita, a senior adviser to the Earley campaign.
In the magazine, the NRA tells members to expect another mailing about the governor's race soon.
"We're going to do some kind of mailing, we just don't know what kind of mailing yet," Mr. Kozuch said.
What's at stake are the tens of thousands of single-issue voters opposed to gun control. An NRA endorsement carries a lot of weight with them, and Mr. Earley was counting on those votes. Mr. Warner has fought to keep the association neutral by agreeing with many of its stances. And Mr. Earley isn't a clear winner in the association's eyes.
In its report card, the NRA endorsed Republican Jay Katzen over Democrat Tim Kaine for lieutenant governor and Republican Jerry Kilgore over Democrat A. Donald McEachin for attorney general, and gives each of the four a letter grade. The association also gave grades to most candidates in House of Delegates races and endorsed nine Democrats, 45 Republicans and three independents.
In the 1993 and 1997 races, the NRA endorsed Republicans and eventual winners George F. Allen and James S. Gilmore III, respectively.
Mr. Warner has successfully courted the other side by also gaining approval from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, formerly Handgun Control Inc.
Brendan Daley, a spokesman for the group, said Mr. Warner was to meet with them about supporting his campaign on Sept. 11, but that meeting was canceled.
Even though the group hasn't endorsed him, Mr. Daley said, "We say overall he'd make a better governor."
Also yesterday, Mr. Earley received a scathing rebuke from the Junior League of Richmond and Make Women Count after he bailed out of a joint appearance with Mr. Warner before the two groups, and sent his wife, Cynthia, instead.
"Although we understand the pressures of a political campaign, we are concerned that Mr. Earley's failure to appear indicates the priority his campaign places on women voters in the Commonwealth," the groups said in a statement.
The Earley campaign said the statement was orchestrated by Democrats and said Mrs. Earley was an appropriate stand-in for her husband, who had to break his commitment in order to attend to other campaign requirements.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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