Presidential candidates try to recruit hunters, fishermen
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gun-rights groups perceive President Barack Obama as a threat to access to firearms. They once had qualms about Mitt Romney, too.
But times and circumstances have changed for Romney, the GOP presidential nominee now in tune with the National Rifle Association and similar organizations, whose members are motivated voters.
In the tight White House race, every bit of support helps, especially in the most closely contested states and particularly from groups that claim millions of members nationwide.
Romney’s prior embrace of gun-control proposals had put him crossways with the NRA and others. These days, Romney is on their good side by opposing renewal of a federal ban on semiautomatic firearms, additional regulations on gun shows and suggested federal gun registration requirements.
Gun groups are an important part of an outdoor enthusiast network that neither side is willing to concede.
There are “Sportsmen for Romney” and “Sportsmen for Obama,” all playing to the largely male hook-and-bullet crowd that is protective of recreational passions. Neither candidate is considered an avid outdoorsman, though each has made mention of fishing rods or been photographed casting a line.
Romney and his allies underscore his hands-off stance when it comes to guns, and say he would move to open more public land to hunting. They also promote the bona fides of running mate Paul Ryan, who has a permit for just about every season in Wisconsin, his home state.
Last month, Ryan reminded a gathering of sportsmen in Ohio of the hours he has logged in duck blinds, deer stands, pheasant fields and fishing boats. Then came his critique of Obama: “I wonder, I shudder as a gun owner, seeing his record when he was in the Illinois state Senate, what would he do if he never has to face the voters ever again?”
The Obama campaign emphasizes steps by his administration to promote habitat conservation, set aside land and preserve access to land used for recreation. Supporters point to Obama’s “American Great Outdoors Initiative” to coordinate conservation and natural resource efforts in all 50 states, whether it’s restoring wetlands in Iowa’s duck-rich Prairie Pothole Region or filtering phosphorous harmful to fish and fowl in Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio.
Obama’s campaign highlights a law he signed in his first year as president that allows people with weapons permits to bring loaded guns into national parks and wildlife refuges. The change drew rebukes from gun-control advocates.