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NRA chooses Duluth as site of Bush endorsement
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NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre (left) and Chief NRA Lobbyist Chris Cox chose Duluth to announce the organization's endorsement of George W. Bush for President. (MPR photo/Bob Kelleher)
The National Rifle Association today endorsed Republican President George Bush for re-election, and plans to target Democrat John Kerry in a multi-million dollar campaign. The NRA made its announcement in Duluth.

Duluth, Minn. — It's no surprise the NRA considers George Bush a friend of gun owners. What's may be surprising is the level of vehemence the NRA holds for Democrat John Kerry.

NRA officials made the long expected endorsement of George Bush this morning in Duluth. Chief NRA Lobbyist Chris Cox says the choice is clear.

"You have a candidate who respects the 2nd amendment and respects our hunting heritage, and you have one that's lying about it," Cox says. "On November 2nd we encourage every gun owner and sportsman in this country to re-elect George W. Bush."

Cox says Democrat John Kerry has voted more than 50 times against gun owners and sportsmen.

On the other hand, candidate John Kerry says he's a hunter and a gun owner, and says he supports the 2nd Amendment to the constitution - the amendment often interpreted as guaranteeing citizens the right to own guns. But NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre says Kerry is being deceptive.

"Looking people in the eye, in the heartland of this country, and telling them that he's a big supporter of the second amendment, and in the same breath going back to Washington and voting to destroy the second amendment," he says. "I mean, it's a fraud. It's a phony. It's trying to weasel your way into the White House by lying about a 20 year voting record."

The NRA is launching a $20 million advertising blitz targeting John Kerry. Officials say they'll use public rallies, telephone banks, and the media to sway the election in 15 states.

The announcement in Duluth again underscores Minnesota's prominent role in the Presidential election. LaPierre says the announcement was made here for good reason.

"You have close to 600-thousand licensed hunters," he says. "And those hunters and gun owners in Minnesota could very well be the deciding votes that determine which way this state goes in the Presidential election - in fact which was the Presidential election goes."

That's not as fantastic as it sounds. Duluth political observer Craig Grau says the gun issue may have kept Al Gore out of the White House four years ago, giving states like West Virginia to George Bush.

"The story is that coal and guns - Gore's position on coal and guns affected West Virginia," Grau says. "If he had carried West Virginia or any of a number of states he'd have been President of the United States."

But Grau says there's no certainty that guns will have such sway this year.

"Question is, is that a defining position, given all sorts of other kinds of issues, especially Iraq, terrorism, you know, the economy, health care, things like that. It's just one issue into the mix.

And there are others who think President Bush stands on the wrong side of the gun issue. Rebecca Thoman is Executive Director for the group Citizens for a Safer Minnesota. Thoman says President Bush had promised to renew a federal ban on assault weapons - but instead has let the ban expire in September.

"Our disappointment was that while President Bush said he supported that ban, he really did nothing," she says. "He didn't lift a finger, really to get Congress to take any action what so ever to extend the ban. You know that he said that he was on the side of law enforcement, but in the end, he didn't really do anything to help and he allowed the ban to expire."

And Thoman says the NRA's endorsement isn't going to influence most people.

"So, clearly they have a special interest agenda in mind, which is not something that's going to benefit most citizens; most Americans," she says. "Yeah, the public is really with sensible gun laws as an idea."

NRA officials began in Duluth, then took their endorsement to events in Michigan and Ohio - all three stops in what are considered Presidential election swing state.

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