NRA   spends   almost   $1M   to   help   Bush

Jonathan D. Salant

Organization president Charlton Heston has held get-out-the-vote rallies in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. An eight-state tour featuring Heston is scheduled to begin Monday.

The  NRA's  Political  Victory  Fund  also  has  endorsed  Bush.

"On November 7, Americans will be casting the most important votes of their lifetimes
to save the Second Amendment for future generations," the group said in announcing its endorsement of the Republican on its Web site.

Gore campaign officials acknowledge that the NRA's efforts have hurt them, especially among pro-gun union members in those states, and are trying to counterattack.

Labor leaders said they have found some success trumping the NRA by arguing in response that Gore won't take away their guns but that Bush will take away their union.

NRA spokesman Bill Powers said the unions' ploy wasn't working.

"Hard-working men and women, partly in these key battleground states, value their freedom," Powers said. "Everywhere we go, people are showing up wearing union jackets. They're not buying this line from the shop stewards. They do believe Al Gore is a threat to their freedom."

Gore has shied away from anti-gun rhetoric, using a debate with Bush to declare that he would not take guns away from law-abiding citizens.

Still, President Clinton and Vice President Gore successfully pushed for a waiting period for handgun purchases and a ban on certain assault-style weapons. And Democrat Gore has supported licensing future handgun buyers and wants to expand background checks.

Bush has mirrored the NRA's call for enforcing current gun laws rather than passing new legislation. He would support instant background checks at gun shows. As governor, he signed legislation allowing Texans to carry concealed weapons.

Bush's running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, voted as a congressman against House bills to ban armor-piercing "cop-killer" bullets and plastic guns that might be smuggled past metal detectors.

In April, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre co-chaired a Republican National Committee fund-raising dinner that featured Bush and brought in a then-record $21.5 million, including at least $250,000 from the NRA.

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane criticized the NRA's effort for Bush.

"It's the latest example of an infusion of special interest money designed to help the governor," Lehane said. "His presidency will be a presidency of the special interests, for the special interests and by the special interests. The West Wing of the White House will consist of NRA lobbyists, Big Oil executives, pharmaceutical lawyers and HMO bean counters."

Responded Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan: "When it comes to special interest funding and support, Al Gore knocks it out of the park."

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reported that interest groups spent $5.2 million on ads in support of Gore between June 1 and Oct. 8 in the 75 biggest media markets. During the same period, special interests spent just $279,780 on ads in support of Bush.

While the NRA has backed Bush, gun control groups have criticized his record.

Handgun Control spent $2 million on two ads criticizing Bush's position on guns. In addition, officials of the gun control group recently conducted a van tour of eight states to express their opposition to the Texas governor.

One of Handgun Control's ads featured tape of a top NRA official touting the group's clout in a potential Bush White House.

The tape quotes an NRA vice president, Kayne Robinson, saying this about Bush :

"If  we  win  we'll  have  a  president  ...
where  we  work  out  of  their  office."

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