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U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., shown above talking to Columbus resident Rebecca Elerbrook during a 2009 appearance at Columbus Community Church, has earned the support of the National Rifle Association during his race for governor this year but some political pundits speculate that the NRA is even more interested in supporting him in a bid for the presidency in 2016.
So, the National Rifle Association has endorsed a candidate in the Indiana governor’s race.
“Mike Pence is a staunch supporter of our Second Amendment rights. Voters in Indiana can trust that Mike Pence will respect their right to
self-defense and will honor their rich hunting heritage as he has throughout his years of public service. We urge all NRA members and gun owners in Indiana to vote Mike Pence for governor on Nov. 6,” Chris Cox, the chairman of the NRA Political Victory Fund, said in a news release.
There are a couple of things that are curious about this endorsement.
The first involves figuring out how the NRA picked Pence instead of his two rivals, Democrat John Gregg and Libertarian Rupert Boneham — given that all three of them seem to give private gun ownership the same sort of reverence that monks in the Middle Ages gave to prayer.
Perhaps, in making its selection, the NRA took note of the polls, saw that Pence has a double-digit lead in the race and decided to go with the likely winner. There’s nothing new about that. Jumping on a bandwagon as it nears the end of the parade is a time-honored American political tradition.
But then there’s the question of why the NRA would want to get involved in Indiana’s governor’s race in the first place.
It drives gun lovers bat guano crazy when someone points this out, maybe because the only thing they seem to enjoy more than their guns is having paranoid fantasies about people trying to take their guns. But they don’t have anything to worry about in the Hoosier state.
Indiana’s constitution is a lot less ambiguous than the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is when it comes to private gun ownership.
Our state conversation says Hoosiers have a right to own guns.
That reality is reflected in the state’s gun laws, which are among America’s most nurturing for gun advocates.
Hoosier toddlers aren’t required yet to take automatic weapons to their day care centers, and private citizens here can’t own their own nuclear weapons. But, short of those two things, what is there on the NRA wish list that the state’s lawmakers haven’t already provided for the gun lobby?
And, if there was a change in Indiana law the NRA really, really wanted, my guess is the members of the Indiana General Assembly would knock themselves out trying to make it happen. In a state where the campaign finance and reporting requirements are among the most lax in the nation, legislators tend to be accommodating to well-funded special interest groups.
If Virginia is for lovers, Indiana is for gun lovers.
Why, then, would the NRA spend time and energy on a battlefield the gun lobby already owns?
The answer has to do with forces larger than Indiana.
Pence entered this race as a figure of national prominence. There was speculation that he might run for president rather than governor this year — and Pence never has done much to disguise the fact that he could see himself living in the White House some day.
Two men stood between Pence and the GOP presidential nomination — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and current GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Daniels mulled over a presidential run long and hard before family considerations prompted him to opt not to run. As long as Daniels was a possibility, he would have frozen a great deal of money and support Pence, as a fellow Hoosier Republican, would have needed to get a strong launch for a presidential campaign.
Given that either Pence or Daniels would have had to get past Romney, who had huge fundraising and name-recognition advantages, a strong launch was essential.
So Pence chose to run for governor, instead.
Romney long has wanted to run for president in the worst possible way, and that’s exactly how he’s been doing it.
The fact that Romney is likely to lose means that in four years the GOP won’t have an incumbent president on the ballot and will need a strong, fresh candidate.
Pence by then likely will have won a big triumph in this governor’s race and, with the help of a heavily Republican legislature, have recorded a series of conservative legislative initiatives. He’ll be a top-tier prospect for the Republican presidential nomination.
That’s why the NRA cares about Indiana.
The gun lobby didn’t place a late bet on the 2012 Indiana governor’s race.
No, it placed an early bet on the 2016 presidential race.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” on WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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