Romney's NRA Speech Positions Him as a Champion of 'Freedom'

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at the National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis, April 13, 2012.

If you're searching for photo ops of Mitt Romney in blaze orange hunting gear, stop looking.

Romney has dropped efforts to brand himself an avid hunter this campaign cycle after being famously ridiculed for playing himself off as one during the 2008 race. But he hasn't stopped positioning himself as a friend to gun owners as he seeks to shore up conservative support ahead of November.

Romney spent a portion of Friday reaching out directly to gun owners gathered for the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in St. Louis, Mo. He delivered a speech broadly attacking President Obama for failing to protect Americans' economic, religious and personal freedoms-- highlighting gun owners in that final attack.

"We need a President who will stand up for the rights of hunters, sportsmen, and those who seek to protect their home and family," Romney said. "President Obama has not; I will."

Absent the pretense of being a hunter, Romney argued Friday that he, unlike the president, will not support new gun laws and will protect Second Amendment rights in America.

But Romney used the bulk of his speech Friday to broadly focus on all freedoms.

Romney criticized the president for viewing the Constitution as a "living and evolving" document and for attempting to "browbeat" the Supreme Court, a reference to the president's recent stern language regarding the Court's future decision on Obamacare.

"He thinks our nation's highest court is to be revered and respected-- as long as it remains faithful to the original intent of Barack Obama," Romney said.

Romney also attacked the president for supporting the EPA over two business owners, supporting contraception coverage-- even for religious institutions opposed to it--and for expanding government, raising taxes, and imposing excessive regulations.

Romney's broad speech notably did not include any mention of his personal experiences with guns.

The former Massachusetts governor has long had a rocky relationship with gun owners, made even more questionable by his now-legendary hunting-speak delivered during the 2008 campaign.

"I'm not a big game hunter," Romney told reporters in 2007. "I've made it very clear. I've always been, if you will, a rodent and rabbit hunter. All right? Small varmints, if you will." He was ridiculed for the line, which exposed him as anything but a serious hunter.

Additionally, when asked if he owned a gun he was touting during a conversation with reporters that year, Romney revealed the gun he was talking about was actually owned by his son.

But this election has been different.

During a January Fox News debate, Romney didn't even try to cast himself as a big-time hunter, saying: "I'm not the great hunter that some on this stage-- probably Rick Perry, my guess is you are a serious hunter-- I'm not a serious hunter, but I must admit I guess I enjoy the sport and when I get invited I'm delighted to be able to go hunting."

The Obama campaign preempted Romney's speech Friday by having former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, an Obama supporter, issue an op-ed which poked holes in Romney's commitment to Second Amendment rights and accused him of "pandering shamelessly to voters."

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