NRA President David Keene tells Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview that while he is “quite comfortable” with GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, the presumed nominee must choose a vice-presidential candidate who supports the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- if he wants the group's support.
Attending the National Rifle Association annual meeting in St. Louis on Friday, Keene reiterated that the organization’s “principle goal” is to replace President Barack Obama in the White House.
And, according to Keene, all of the major GOP presidential candidates are acceptable to the National Rifle Association based on their support for the Second Amendment, which gives citizens the right to “keep and bear arms.”
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There is, however, one name being mentioned as a vice-presidential possibility that the group would not be comfortable with, Keene said. He fears that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would be a “problematic” choice as a possible running mate.
“The only name that’s been mentioned that I find problematic would be Chris Christie of New Jersey who, in many ways, is an attractive governor — and has done some great work on fiscal matters — but is not gun friendly, if you will, does not have good relations with gun owners and Second Amendment supporters — either nationally or in New Jersey,” declared Keene. “So that would be the only flag that I would raise. I’m sure there are others, but not ones that have been mentioned.”
Christie, New Jersey’s first-term Republican governor, said in March that he’d consider a request from Romney to become his vice-presidential running mate if asked. Christie has endorsed Romney, and made campaign appearances on his behalf, since ruling himself out as a presidential candidate last year.
“I owe it to Gov. Romney, if he were to ask me the question, to sit and listen to him as to why he thinks I would be the best person to be vice president,” Christie said last month. “From my perspective, if you’re a betting person, bet on me still being governor of New Jersey in January of 2013.”
Keene, who was chairman of the American Conservative Union, before stepping up to head one of the most powerful political lobbying organizations in the United States, said that Obama poses the “most significant threat that we faced in our lifetimes” to the Second Amendment.
“Just to name the most important thing he could do, he will get one, two — or maybe three — Supreme Court appointments,” explained Keene. “If he gets those, and appoints the kind of people he’s already appointed to the Supreme Court, the Second Amendment could be rewritten in the flash of an eye. So this is an important election.”
Moreover, he said, the Obama administration has also indicated it is receptive to an international treaty that would potentially impinge upon the rights guaranteed to gun owners in the Second Amendment and pose serious new restrictions on gun ownership.
“If that kind of a treaty is passed, we need a United States Senate that will reject it,” he insisted, noting that NRA, unlike other political lobbying organizations, is nonpartisan. “We’ve got not as many, but we’ve got a lot of Democrats as well as Republicans and independents, who when they feel their Second Amendment rights are at risk, are willing to vote on the basis of that issue.”
That’s one reason the organization is so powerful on a national level, according to Keene, who said that former President Bill Clinton once attributed former Vice President Al Gore’s close loss to George W. Bush to the lobbying efforts of the NRA, costing him five states in the 2000 election.
“That pretty much tracked with our assessment of what went on that year,” he said. “In a lot of states that are crucial states, gun owners, Second Amendment supporters, NRA members, can make a difference — a difference of two, three, four, points — and as your viewers know, in this country these days, in crucial states, that’s the difference between winning and losing, or in Al Gore’s case, the difference between being president or a cable billionaire.”
The organization intends to intensify its efforts against Obama with a push to register an estimated 25 million gun owners, who are not presently believed to hold voter registrations. “We feel that if they were registered, they would vote in the same way that gun owners who are registered would vote, and that’s to vote for the Second Amendment when they have an opportunity to do that,” said Keene, who counts a number of prominent liberals among his friends, and who once passed out literature for John F. Kennedy as a teen.
“The second thing we’re going to do — and we’re beginning now — is to let our members and people who believe in the Second Amendment know just what’s at stake,” he emphasized.
Having made the determination that all of the GOP presidential candidates were acceptable, the organization opted not to endorse any candidate in the hotly contested nomination battle.
“We decided, based on our rules, to stand back, and let the electorate decide who would be the most effective general election candidate to achieve the goal that we want in the fall,” Keene explained. “And that appears now to be former Gov. Romney.”
While some more-conservative voters have been reticent to embrace Romney because of his prior stands on issues such as healthcare, Keene said that the NRA representative who was responsible for lobbying efforts in Massachusetts and five or six other states during Romney’s tenure as governor, found his administration to be the “easiest administration from a gun rights perspective” to deal with.
“They tried to do everything they could for us,” said Keene, adding, “What he could do for us was relatively limited because it was Massachusetts and he only had about 28 percent of the legislature, but Gov. Romney, like the others, is a Second Amendment supporter.”
Given the potential importance of the Senate in both confirming Supreme Court appointments and ratifying international treaties, the NRA plans to work toward the defeat of incumbents who are deemed not willing to support Second Amendment interests.
That includes Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, whom Keene described as the “single worst Republican senator” in the U.S. Senate.
“He’s an F-rated senator,” according to Keene. “We, based on that, are supporting his primary opponent. And we think that his primary opponent has a decent chance of winning that. If that happens, we could be trading an F-rated senator for an A-rated senator. And that’s something that’s always in our interest — whether it happens in a general election or a primary.”
Despite the media attention being paid to the death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent arrest of 28-year-old George Zimmerman, the NRA does not believe so-called Stand Your Ground laws in the Sunshine State and 24 other states face any serious threat.
“I think that they are entrenched as a reflection of the American people’s general view of what they have a right to do if they’re attacked,” said Keene. “Frankly, in a state that doesn’t have a Stand Your Ground law, if you’re walking down the street, and you’re attacked — and you respond forcibly — in most cases you wouldn’t be charged anyway.”
Keene accused New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others of attempting to “exploit” the death of the unarmed Martin for political gain in their war on guns. “He wants to register, confiscate, get rid of firearms everywhere. So let’s not fool ourselves,” Keene said. “I would be surprised if a serious debate takes place in any of those 25 legislatures that would result in the repeal or modification of the existing laws.”
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