Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, locked in a tough reelection contest in a battleground state, apologized Monday after a recording was published capturing him joking to supporters over the weekend about how gun-rights supporters might want to put a “bull’s eye” on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Burr’s comments were made to campaign supporters at a get-out-the-vote meeting Saturday. They were first reported Monday by CNN.
In the course of explaining why voters who might not necessarily support GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump should support Republican lawmakers like himself, Burr highlighted gun-rights supporters as a key part of his coalition.
“Nothing made me feel any better than [when] I walked to a gun shop, I think, yesterday in Oxford. There was a copy of Rifleman on the counter,” he said, an apparent reference to American Rifleman, the National Rifle Association’s monthly magazine.
“It’s got a picture of Hillary Clinton on the front of it,” he said. “I was a little bit shocked at that — didn’t have the bull’s eye on it.”
The crowd laughed, and Burr moved on: “But on the bottom right it had everybody for federal office in this particular state that they should vote for.”
“Let me assure you, there is an army of support out there right now for our candidates,” Burr continued. “They are supporting and re-supporting everything you’re saying and everything you’re doing. We don’t always pick it up,” he said, adding that he has sent out 4.7 million pieces of mail: “Those are going to folks that we know exactly the issue that motivates them to vote.”
“The comment I made was inappropriate, and I apologize for it,” Burr said Monday in a statement issued by his campaign. Recent polls have shown him in a tight race with Democrat Deborah Ross, a lawyer and former state lawmaker.
In August, Trump was criticized after suggesting that gun-rights supporters might seek retribution if Clinton wins the election and appoints liberal judges: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said at a rally. “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
But the 44-minute Burr tape is notable for other reasons — revealing the anxiety of some Republican activists faced with persuading voters to support more conventional GOP lawmakers like Burr downballot from a divisive figure like Trump.
Burr, at several points, rallies the crowd by highlighting the traditional Republican issues at stake, such as opposition to abortion rights and left-leaning judges. At one point, he indicates that if Clinton is elected, he plans to “do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court” — a reference to the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February.
The Senate has not acted on President Obama’s nomination of appellate judge Merrick B. Garland to fill the seat.
At one point, a supporter asks Burr how to persuade young voters who are wary of Trump to cast a ballot.
“It is a great question,” Burr replies, before paraphrasing an interview he’d heard with Trump surrogate and Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson: “Donald Trump still has an opportunity to be redeemed. It’s up to Donald Trump. But when you look at every issue, he aligns perfectly with where the Republican party is. … Do I throw him overboard because he’s done things that we would consider to be immoral? … Don’t we give him an opportunity to be redeemed?”