- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2005

A key Virginia gun rights lobby said yesterday that it will not endorse a candidate in the gubernatorial race but is urging its members not to sit out the election, as many did in 2001.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), yesterday said Democrat Timothy M. Kaine was the only candidate to complete the group’s survey on gun issues.

Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, who has the backing of the National Rifle Association, did not submit the survey, nor did independent candidate H. Russell Potts Jr.

“We don’t have enough information to endorse anybody,” Mr. Van Cleave said.

Both the VCDL and NRA declined to endorse candidates in the 2001 race between Republican Mark L. Earley and Democrat Mark Warner. However, two weeks before the election, the NRA sent a letter urging members to vote for Mr. Earley.

Mr. Van Cleave said many voters stayed home because they were “disenchanted” with the Earley campaign. He is urging members to vote Nov. 8, even if they skip a choice for governor.

“We understand that many of you are considering sitting out the election due to the lack of a standout pro-gun candidate in the governor’s race. Go to the polls and vote,” the group writes in a newsletter, noting the importance of other statewide races and contests for the House of Delegates.

The VCDL’s newsletter and endorsements reach about 7,000 people.

Meanwhile, the group’s political action committee yesterday endorsed Republican William T. Bolling for lieutenant governor.

Mr. Kilgore will not be seeking the group’s endorsement, campaign spokesman Tucker Martin said.

“While we have great respect for the members of the VCDL, their President Phillip Van Cleave unfortunately has no credibility on Second Amendment issues and that is why we did not participate,” Mr. Martin said, declining to elaborate.

Mr. Van Cleave laughed when he heard Mr. Martin’s comment.

“I have no idea where that’s coming from,” he said. “I’m sorry to hear them say that. We’ve been nothing but polite to that campaign. That answer is not going to fly.”

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, also was confused by the comment and called Mr. Van Cleave “credible.”

“I like Phillip,” he said. “He’s a sincere and knowledgeable individual when it comes to protecting gun rights.”

Mr. Griffith, however, has not returned his VCDL survey, which includes questions about where candidates stand on efforts to repeal the ban on concealed weapons in bars. VCDL wants to repeal the ban.

Mr. Martin said the NRA is “lock, stock and barrel behind us.”

The NRA gubernatorial endorsement is forthcoming, with Mr. Kilgore having an “A” rating and Mr. Kaine an “F” rating.

The group has criticized Mr. Kaine for chartering buses to take participants to the Million Mom March gun-control rally in the District in 2000. Mr. Kaine, who was mayor of Richmond at the time, has said he was showing sympathy for gun-crime victims.

VCDL’s newsletter said Mr. Kaine’s record as mayor of Richmond is “of concern.”

Gun-rights advocates may be a small voting bloc, but polls show the race is tied between Mr. Kaine and Mr. Kilgore. A small portion of the electorate could swing the election.

The NRA says that more than 115,000 state members vote solely on gun-rights issues.

The VCDL announcement was made one day after the NRA issued a rare endorsement of a Democrat for attorney general.

The NRA endorsed R. Creigh Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, for his sponsorship of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt, fish and trap game.

VCDL declined to endorse Mr. Deeds or Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican delegate from Virginia Beach, because the two hold similar positions.

“The gun owner can’t lose one way or another on these two candidates,” Mr. Van Cleave said.

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