Thursday, October 28, 2004
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Hunting for votes
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
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- A good trade: Virginia trout for Kentucky elk
- Forget the odds-makers; Salem’s John Crews believes he can win the Bassmaster Classic.
- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
When Sen. John Kerry went goose hunting in Ohio last week, he didn’t just call in a bunch of his good-old-boy buddies and say, “Hey, this campaign is getting weary. I need a break. Let go kill a goose.” There was more to it than that.
So why did he risk disfranchising those among the liberal voters who have little love for guns or hunting? Why did he provide so many guffaws for late-night TV comedians? Why did he wave a dead goose in the face of the anti-hunting, animal-rights groups who score him high?
Because outdoor sportsmen -- people who hunt, fish and boat -- are going to count and count big in this election. Kerry knows he must have support from many to win. He wasn’t hunting for geese; he was hunting for votes.
Both the campaigns of Sen. Kerry and President Bush have placed a high priority on identifying with traditional outdoor sportsmen. Bush has fished with Roland Martin, has a lifetime membership in a number of outdoor organizations, manages quail habitat, owns a fish pond and has invited leaders of conservation organizations to tour his ranch and come to the White House. He doesn’t have to sell himself as an outdoorsman. He is one.
Bush and Kerry might wish they had worked the outdoor crowd even harder in view of the results of a mid-October survey by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.
Looking at three critical swing states, the survey found that a high percentage of sportsmen are considered likely voters: 75 percent in Ohio; 80 percent in New Mexico and 82 percent in Florida. Not many groups will match those figures.
For outdoorsmen, it is flattering to be courted by both camps; it is exciting to realize that sportsmen could decided the race; it is empowering to know that swing states are full of sportsmen who are going to vote and the candidates know it.
That’s a huge change from four years ago when Vice President Al Gore, in an interview with Outdoor Life, wouldn’t even answer the questions: “Do you hunt? Do you fish?”
This new respect for sportsmen can’t help but extend beyond Election Day, if sportsmen work to make that happen. It already has placed a gag on anti-gun and anti-hunting rhetoric. It gives outdoorsmen an opportunity to move forward with funding, programs and respect at a time when money has been tight for outdoor interests and when sportsmen in the eyes of some have been pictured as being out of date and out of step. It is a warning to all politicians that there are nearly 40 million outdoorsmen looking for someone to take an interest in the things they love.
Who will get the outdoorsmen vote? That’s not as easy to answer as you might think. Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines have carried extensive interviews with both candidates, but have endorsed neither.
The editors of Field & Stream said: “This much we know. The next president of the United States will be a sportsman. Whether it’s George W. Bush or John F. Kerry, each claims that hunting and fishing have been an integral part of his life. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, this should come as very good news.”
Such a statement must have the NRA either seething or laughing. The NRA gives Kerry an “F” rating, and urges its members not to fall for what it says are “phony photo-op images of John Kerry clumsily handling various shotguns, including a Remington 11-78 that his own anti-gun legislation would have banned.”
Double-page advertisements in a number of outdoor magazines, including the November issue of Virginia Game & Fish, depict Kerry as “hunting for your vote,” with a record of “voting against your gun and hunting rights over 50 times in 20 years.” The ad is the work of the Hunting & Shooting Sports Heritage Fund.
“The sportsmen who will vote firearms first will vote for Bush,” Paul Hansen was quoted in the Washington Post. He is executive director of the Izaak Walton League. “The sportsmen who will vote conservation first will have a tougher choice,” he said.
Preservation groups, like the Sierra Club, have urged their members to vote again Bush, citing what they call a poor record on conservation. These groups are more concerned about mercury in water, loggers in the national forest and oil-drillers on public land than in gun rights.
The Sierra Club states that it does not oppose hunting, but some hunters wonder. If it kicks loggers out of the national forests now will hunters be next? There is no question that its anti-logging philosophy is hurting a number of species that sportsmen hunt.
Many sportsmen are comfortable with the fact that President Bush is solidly behind the Second Amendment, but they have been disappointed that he hasn’t been more of a conservationists. Some, reluctantly, have gone to the other camp, saying, “What good are guns if there are no places to hunt?” Others chant back, “What good are places to hunt if you can’t own guns to hunt them?”
The result is a crack in the unity of the outdoor fraternity. No where is this more evident than in the ranks of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, where some members side with the NRA and others with the Sierra Club. Still others stand on the sidelines, uncertain what to do. This has caused a huge split in OWAA, resulting in many resignations, mostly from those who won’t tolerate even a hint of anti-gun or anti-hunting.
Such philosophical differences among sportsmen will be carried to the voting booths and will last long past Election Day.