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GOP Tries to Soften Blow of Childers’ NRA Endorsement

A day after the National Rifle Association announced its support of Rep. Travis Childers (D) in Mississippi’s conservative and very gun friendly 1st district, Republicans continued to downplay the significance of the endorsement.

The goal, one GOP operative said, is to demonstrate that the NRA endorsement was made not because Childers is any stronger on gun rights than state Rep. Alan Nunnelee, who earned the GOP nomination earlier this month, but rather because the NRA was following a policy of backing incumbents who are able to achieve the group’s top rating.

On Monday, the NRA’s political arm commended Childers for his “active and proven commitment to our Second Amendment rights.”

In his endorsement letter, NRA Political Victory Fund Chairman Chris Cox praised Childers for his work to loosen gun restrictions in the District of Columbia and for sponsoring other pro-gun legislation.

Democrats believe the endorsement will play well in Northern Mississippi, where the importance of being pro-gun was recently demonstrated in the Republican primary. In that contest, former Fox News commentator Angela McGlowan found herself under attack because of comments she made that appeared to support putting restrictions on gun ownership. She was never really able to dig herself out of that hole on the campaign trail.

In response to the NRA announcement, the National Republican Congressional Committee quickly blasted out a letter Monday in which the NRA commended Nunnelee for his leadership on gun issues during the 2010 session of the Mississippi Legislature.

“Alan Nunnelee and Travis Childers will vote the exact same way on Second Amendment issues. The difference? Nunnelee will also vote to put a pro-gun speaker in charge of the House,” NRCC spokesman Andy Seré said in a statement accompanying the letter.

But Nunnelee’s camp has also been working since last week to inoculate against the NRA endorsement of Childers.

In a release on Thursday, Nunnelee tried to pre-empt the news by announcing that he fully expected Childers to get the NRA nod because of the group’s incumbent-friendly endorsement rules. Nunnelee also made sure to point out that he had received a top rating from the NRA during 14 years of service in the state Legislature.

“I am a member of the NRA and have deep respect for them,” Nunnelee said in the release. “I accept their expected decision to endorse the incumbent, but I remain immensely proud of their previous support due to my diligent advocacy on gun owners’ behalves.”

The GOP operative called that a savvy bit of politicking.

“They still have work to do to make sure there isn’t any doubt that [the endorsement] is a wash, but they got off on the right foot” with that statement last week, the operative said.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, the NRA’s political arm gave Childers a $1,000 contribution in June of 2009. This cycle, the committee has also given $1,000 donations to two other Mississippi Members, Republican Rep. Gregg Harper and Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor.

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