By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
After former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin urged a "Don't Retreat, Instead—RELOAD!" strategy to her fellow Tea Party and anti-Washington fans on Twitter last month, she was slapped by liberals and Democrats for using deplorable gun imagery. But Palin is not about to holster her rhetorical sidearm. What's more, she's leading a posse of Second Amendment-supporting Republicans to the annual National Rifle Association convention later this month in Charlotte, N.C. Take a gander at who's on the docket, which looks like the conservative roundup for the 2012 GOP primaries: Palin, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence.
"It's a big deal," says the NRA's top lobbyist and convention organizer Chris Cox. "It's a beauty contest of those who support the Second Amendment," he says, adding that the speakers will also include media and Hollywood elite, and even some Blue Dog Democrats like Tennessee Rep. John Tanner and North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler.
With expectations of a record-setting crowd of 80,000, Cox says gun owners are fired up more than ever over concerns about liberal politicians banning guns and Washington's spending. "It's an indication of where the American people are on the Second Amendment," he says. Critics, he adds, "try to paint us as an extreme, but we are the deepest part of the river; we are the strongest part of the river," says Cox.
The display of politicians on the NRA's side is also meant to warn those who don't take notice as the midterm elections near. "NRA members and gun owners are a very important voting bloc," says Cox. "Are they concerned about [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi? Yes. Are they concerned about President Obama? They are," says Cox.
"When you see [2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen.] John Kerry in a goose pit a couple of weeks before an election, I think that speaks volumes," says Cox, the head of the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA's advocacy arm. And for more recent political posturing, he says, consider "the president, who despite a past of supporting every gun-control proposal that was ever brought before him, campaigned as some sort of strong supporter of the Second Amendment. All those things, I think, are a reflection of the fact that the American people strongly support this right and expect their politicians to do the same."
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.
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