Rudy Guns for NRA Backing

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Amid the campaign chaos, this week felt . . . familiar.

There was something oddly comforting about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., talking healthcare, fighting off a fund-raising scandal, and answering questions about her personal life. President Bush even reminded us that he's still president, with a full-blown news conference and a veto threat (and some political prognostication to boot).

And the campaign returns to form today in Washington, when former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., confronts some skeptics. We've heard his tough-guy talk for months, the remember-9/11, I'll-kill-the-terrorists-myself-if-I-have-to song he's perfected. But today we could find out whether the national GOP frontrunner can put enough daylight between the new Rudy and the old Rudy for him to make a case to Republican primary voters on an issue that's one of the party pillars.

The event is the National Rifle Association's "Celebration of American Values" -- but there's no denying that Giuliani hasn't always celebrated these particular values (and YouTube clips exist to remind the deniers of what Rudy won't say at 11:30 am ET today).

This crowd could matter more to his campaign than social conservatives. There may be a (sizable) slice of voters who will never vote for Rudy because of abortion rights or gay rights. But those for whom guns is a more salient issue have more in common with Giuliani's true base inside the GOP -- the keep-us-safe, take-on-the-terrorists crowd. It's those voters that he needs to convince if he's going to contend for the nomination.

Giuliani plans to use his address to tout his crime-fighting record (press release last night from the mayor-of-Gotham-turned-action-hero: "Rudy Giuliani: Crime Fighter). There's a cultural split here that Giuliani can never fully heal, but Giuliani will talk about areas where he can agree with the NRA. "I am going to emphasize the areas in which we are in agreement of which that is probably eight or nine out of 10 areas," Giuliani said yesterday, ABC's Jan Simmonds reports.

Surprise -- his opponents want to focus on that one or two (or more) areas where Rudy is off the NRA's reservation. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., may not be Giuliani's second choice for president anymore after his speech today. "McCain refers to a lawsuit by Giuliani and other mayors against the gun industry, to Giuliani's shifting Second Amendment position and to Giuliani's use of the term 'extremists' in relation to the NRA," AP's Libby Quaid writes in previewing McCain's speech. "My friends, gun owners are not extremists; you are the core of modern America," McCain says in his prepared remarks.

Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass. -- whose own record on guns isn't pure (whether or not he considers himself a hunter) -- also plans a swipe at Giuliani, with an attack on lawsuits that seek "to take away the individual's right to bear arms." "One of the most active fronts in the fight to preserve our Second Amendment rights today is being waged in the courts," Romney will remind the crowd in a videotaped message, his campaign tells ABC News.

Romney also has a new endorsement to announce: Craig Sandler, former NRA director of general operations and a former police chief in Nashua, N.H. And he'll have this to say about the campaign-finance law that McCain championed (and political groups like the NRA loathe): "We ought to get rid of the entire bill."

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