In an effort to boost Romney's gun rights credentials, the campaign announced early Friday that a former NRA director of general operations, Craig Sandler, endorsed the governor's '08 bid.
Republican candidate Fred Thompson, a former Republican senator from Tennessee, received a warm welcome from the NRA crowd. He told the group his relationship with the National Rifle Association goes "way back" and touted recent campaign stops to a gun store and his visit to a gun show Saturday in Lakeland, Fla. Brandishing his gun rights credentials, Thompson said he believes gun shows are a "part of Americana" and said if elected, he would support the Bush administration's position on the Second Amendment.
In a dig to Romney and Giuliani, Thompson said his philosophy on the Second Amendment to bear arms "does not depend on his geography."
Thompson, who was introduced by his campaign biopic video, also took questions submitted by conference attendees, stating he believed gun shows were a "part of Americana" and that if elected, he would support the current administration's position of the Second Amendment allowing and protecting the rights of individuals to keep and bear arms.
While the influential gun-rights group has yet to endorse any particular candidate, Chris Cox, chief lobbyist for the NRA, said it is evaluating a candidate's past, present and possible future record on gun rights.
"We're a force in American politics because of our members," Cox explained. "They're very savvy about evaluating candidates and their positions. They're in every precinct and at every local primary and will have a major impact on any election."
Cox acknowledged that many of the NRA's 4 million members are skeptical of some of the leading GOP candidates — former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, among them — who have been accused of shifting their positions on gun rights.
With reporting by ABC News' Jan Simmonds, Bret Hovell, Matt Stuart and Christine Byun.