At the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), presented his departing colleague Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) with a rifle. (The Associated Press)


Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes was quick to draw comparisons between her gun-handling skills and those of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). Responding to images of McConnell hoisting a rifle above his head Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Grimes, a Democrat, quipped in a tweet that McConnell wasn’t holding the gun properly, adding, “KY women do it better.”


She also resurrected a tweet from last fall showing of her gun-handling form and challenging McConnell to a little competition.


In his defense, McConnell was merely presenting the rifle, a lifetime achievement award from the National Rifle Association, to Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who is retiring after this Congress. McConnell, who has been criticized by conservatives for his bipartisan efforts to end the government shutdown, filled his speech with red meat rhetoric to a CPAC audience more partial to tea party up-and-comers like his GOP primary challenger Matt Bevin.

His holding of the rifle, however incorrectly, garnered some of the loudest applause during his time on stage.

For politicians aiming to appeal to voters who strongly support gun rights, the ability to look like you know what you’re doing with a gun can be important. This is especially true for women seeking higher office who need to show they can hang with their male opponents. Men get zinged about this stuff, too. Remember Michael Dukakis’s tank photo? (That’s the comparison Bevin used to describe McConnell’s gun moment at CPAC.)

Consider the reaction when Wendy Davis, the first female gubernatorial nominee in Texas since Ann Richards was elected in 1990, was presented with the late governor’s shotgun by her son, Clark Richards, at a Texas democrat fundraiser in January.


The image rattled liberals and fellow Democrats, who were already concerned that she’d embraced open-carry gun laws. Davis’s impassive pose was ridiculed by opponents, who said that it was her Dukakis moment. But they agreed that Richards certainly knew how to hold a firearm even if they didn’t like her politics.

And former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whether in the viral and doctored image of her in a USA flag bikini holding a rifle, in  real life visiting U.S. soldiers or on her reality TV show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” has been lauded for her pro-gun stance by supporters, both in her legislation and in her form on the shooting range.

Packing heat for press might not be such a sure shot on the campaign trail.