Friendly Fire: Republicans Fume at NRA’s Endorsement of Democrats

Oct 28, 2010 5:45pm

ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports:

National Republicans are furious with the National Rifle Association, their natural ally, for endorsing 58 incumbent Democrats who support gun rights. And with Republicans aiming to win control of the House, some are promising retribution for the NRA next year.

“In about a week, the NRA will find themselves on the bad sides of a few dozen new Republican members of congress. They have put their credibility – and also that of their members – on the line for the sake of ingratiating themselves with a bunch of liberal Democrats who are about to lose, and lose badly,” said one senior GOP operative who requested anonymity to speak freely.

Republicans need to pick up 39 seats to take control of the House.

On the local level, some Republican challengers in tough races are getting creative to gloss over the NRA’s endorsement of Democrats.

A mailer sent to South Dakota voters by candidate Kristi Noem touts her “A” rating by the NRA and points out that Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is in the same party as Nancy Pelosi, who has an “F” rating.

You’d be hard pressed to know that its Herseth Sandlin, the Democrat, who actually has the NRA endorsement in the race as well as her own “A” rating. Noem’ s mailer also classified Herseth Sandlin as having a “D” rating from another gun rights group, when in fact she got a “B”

Herseth Sandlin has tried to turn the mailer, see it here, into a campaign issue, arguing that Noem is being deceptive by leaving out the NRA endorsement. Read the local coverage here

It’s a similar story in at least two other House races, including Bob Gibbs’ challenge of Rep. Zach Space in Ohio. There an automated campaign call mentioned that Gibbs’ is a lifelong NRA member. Space has the NRA endorsement, however. In all, 58 incumbent Democratic House members have the endorsement of the NRA.

The NRA has a policy of endorsing the incumbent in a race where two candidates are equally pro-gun. When there are more Democrats, as there currently are, it’s a policy that befuddles Republicans, who would be even more gun-friendly if they took control of the House.

The NRA has already gotten a fair amount of flak from conservatives this year. First, the organization worked with Democrats to carve out an exclusion in campaign finance legislation Democrats were pushing. The legislation ultimately died in the Senate, but the NRA’s endorsement made Republican’s party line against it more difficult in the House.

“When you lie down with the dogs, you might get fleas,” House Minority Leader John Boehner told reporters in June when asked about the deal between Democrats and the NRA.

The situation has not gotten any better as Boehner has a majority in his sights and Republicans are expected to win a majority in the House and the NRA has continued to endorse some Democrats in key Congressional districts.

Second Amendment issue groups to the right of the NRA say that the most important vote a house member took in the last Congress was the first one – when they voted for speaker.

“The gun agenda was DOA once when Nancy Pelosi became speaker,” said Larry Pratt of the Gun Owner’s of America, a group that with 300,000 members, is much smaller than NRA, which has more than four million. But Gun Owners of America a favorite of staunch conservatives lawmakers. They have not endorsed any Democrats this year.

In three races where conservative Democrats could have vied for  the Gun Owners endorsement, he said the group decided against endorsing either candidate.

An NRA endorsement is still extremely important in much if not most of the country. It might be the single most important endorsement a candidate can get.  But the NRA’s willingness to endorse outside the Republican party might be why its endorsement still carries so much weight. It is  not a strictly partisan organization.

Pratt said he expects that if Republicans win the House, that influence could fade a bit as Republicans think back to the election.

“They are not going to have the same open door on capitol hill that they might have expected in the past,” he said.

A request for comment from the NRA has not yet been returned.

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