Washington Prowler

The NRA Holds Its Fire

A reluctance to back key Republicans. Also: A Hoosier star.

By 7.16.02

HOLSTERED
So what in blazes is going on with the oh-so-cozy-with-the-Republican-Party National Rifle Association?

For the second time this 2002 election cycle, the gun-rights and gun ownership group has declined to endorse a Republican candidate in a tight, but crucial Senate race.

First came word months ago that the NRA was withholding a full endorsement of North Carolina Senate candidate Elizabeth Dole. "We weren't about to rubber-stamp her candidacy just because she's a Republican," says an NRA board member. "If she wanted our support, she was going to have to earn it."

Thus far, she's been working hard, avoiding the gun issues, trying to get back into the NRA's good graces. Should Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles win the Democratic nomination for the Senate run, it's doubtful the NRA would back him. But then again, in this new era of a slow trigger finger on the endorsement front, who can tell?

Most recently, the NRA was put in the embarrassing situation of having to clarify its endorsement position in another critical Senate campaign: that of Rep. Greg Ganske, who is challenging Sen. Tom Harkin in Iowa. It seems a number of Republican candidates were present at a state GOP party, and NRA president Charlton Heston told the crowd that it was important that the "good guys" win in November. Press reports mistook that general statement as an NRA endorsement of Ganske, who attended the event.

But Ganske is no NRA darling. As a House member, he has routinely received failing marks for opposing NRA-supported initiatives. Last election cycle, he was not endorsed by the NRA.

And even though Ganske has a shot at knocking off one of the more liberal members of the Senate, the NRA isn't ready to tell its members to vote for Ganske. "We're no fan of Harkin, but we're not about to give Ganske a free pass for what he's done to us over the years," says the NRA board member. "The Republican Party has to learn that if they want our support and the support of our activist members, of our grassroots folk, they have to come up with candidates we can back. Doles and Ganskes don't cut it anymore."

Ganske, to his credit, was quick to admit he was not one of the NRA-backed candidates when the press reports said he had been endorsed.

MITCHMAKING
Republican bigwigs in Indiana were watching the recent performance of Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels with great interest. Seems Daniels has privately expressed some interest in returning to the Hoosier state in the near future, with an eye to maybe run for statewide office down the road. "Daniels would make a great candidate for governor if he wanted to make the jump into that kind of politics," says a Washington lobbyist who has tracked Daniels' career. "He has the background and the in-state name I.D. to make a run if he wants to."

Daniels was thought to be a short-term Bush administration hire, perhaps for no more than the first two or three years, in part because Daniels still commutes between Washington and Indianapolis every week. But with the increasing likelihood that budget deficits will rule the day until at least 2005, the thinking inside the White House is that Daniels may stick around to see some success. Last week, he predicted balanced budgets and surpluses again after the 2004 budget cycle.

It isn't just politics back home in Indiana where Daniels is being touted. Some inside the White House say Daniels would make a great presidential chief of staff should the current holder of the job, Andrew Card, resign or move on to another job in the administration.

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