“What do you lose if President Obama wins?” asked NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox, as he sought more donations and new members. “You tell me. What if he appoints just one more anti-gun justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, and we go from one-vote victories to one-vote defeats for generations to come. What’s that going to cost?”
But on the convention floor, amid dozens of stalls exhibiting hunting gear, high-powered binoculars and guns of every size and shape, NRA members said they think issues other than guns are likely to drive the vote.
“I’d be surprised if they’re an issue at all,” said Steve Miller, 61, a photographer and competitive pistol shooter from Harrisburg, Pa., who like other members, is opposed to Obama’s reelection for other reasons. “The Democrats spent all their fire on health care, and now, nobody will touch guns. If they do, it’s a death knell.”
In what might be a sign of the pecking order of top issues for the 2012 race, a jobs forum in New Hampshire this weekend, organized by the fiscally conservative group Americans for Prosperity, drew more of the top-tier likely Republican presidential candidates than the massive NRA convention.
NRA members heard speeches from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, businessman Herman Cain and a keynote address from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Each are considering campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination.
But former governors. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, both considered possible front-runners, did not attend. Nor did Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (R).
Part of the NRA’s challenge is coping with its own successes.
Obama’s win in 2008 interrupted a string of victories for the gun group that had resulted in the advancement of its policy agenda in Congress and statehouses around the country, and the election of gun-friendly candidates from both parties.
Renewed calls for gun support following the January shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) have found little support in Congress.
And though gun owners stocked up on ammunition and weapons after his election in anticipation of restrictions, Obama has not pushed for the reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. He has also signed legislation that allows guns to be carried in national parks and on Amtrak.
The wins have convinced some members that whatever his personal views, Obama would be hamstrung to go after guns, freeing them to look to other issues in the upcoming election.