COLUMBUS - The powerful National Rifle Association on Monday apparently remembered Republican John Kasich's 16-year-old vote for an assault weapons ban as it handed its endorsement to Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
"Governor Strickland has earned a consistent 'A' rating from the NRA,'' the organization's spokesman, Andrew Arulanandam, said. "He has a track record in Congress and as governor in which he has stood up to national elites from within his own party and proved to be an independent vote when it comes to gun rights.''
Mr. Strickland, who currently does not own a gun, received the endorsement at an event with gun owners and sportsmen in Proctorville, Lawrence County, part of his former congressional district in southern Ohio.
"I believe that you can tell where a person is going by looking at where they have been,'' he said. "I grew up as one of nine children in rural Scioto County. For us, hunting and fishing was more than a sport. It was our heritage.''
The NRA cited Mr. Strickland's support as governor for loosening restrictions for licensed Ohioans to carry concealed firearms and for signing into law the Castle Doctrine that gave Ohioans the benefit of the legal doubt should they shoot an intruder in their homes. The governor had received the endorsement in 2006 as well when he defeated Republican Ken Blackwell.
Mr. Kasich received "A'' grades from the NRA early in his congressional career and was endorsed in 1988. But his score dropped to "F'' in 1994 when he backed President Clinton's anti-crime law that included a ban on certain assault weapons. Mr. Strickland opposed the bill.
"John's a gun owner,'' Kasich campaign spokesman Rob Nichols said. "He strongly believes in the Second Amendment and has enjoyed support from the NRA in the past. He picked a running mate [Auditor Mary Taylor] who is as strong on the Second Amendment as anyone in the state.
"In contrast, the governor's support for gun issues is not a deep philosophy instilled in him in Duck Run,'' he said. "He flip-flopped to get elected. John is going to get a lot of support from gun owners from all over the state.''
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said the NRA usually backs incumbents with proven pro-gun track records. But he said it's still a big deal any time a Democrat gets an NRA endorsement.
"It's a big vote in rural Ohio,'' he said. "If you asked John Kasich whether he would have liked to have gotten that endorsement, the answer is yes.
"I don't know that [the impact] is in the hundreds of thousands [of votes], but there are people in the rural areas who pay attention to that endorsement,'' Mr. Sabato said. "It's what they care about. I'm not saying they ignore all other issues, but this is a very positive development for Strickland.''
Strickland campaign spokesman Aaron Pickrell dismissed the suggestion that Mr. Strickland took on a pro-gun stance only after being defeated in 1992 in a competitive district.
"I don't think the NRA is a politically nave organization …,'' he said. "They know the difference between John Kasich and Ted Strickland in this race.''
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