Candidates campaign with guns blazing

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Political News

LENGTH: 957 words

DATELINE: KINGSTON SPRINGS, Tenn.

Tennessee’s nominees for U.S. Senate donned camouflage, armed themselves with shotguns and scoped out doves – not to mention voters – on Monday.

Democrat Bob Clement and Republican Lamar Alexander marked Labor Day, the unofficial start of the general election campaign, by joining hunters on the first day of dove season.

“I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest hunter in the world, but I sure do enjoy it,” said Clement, sporting a camouflage vest and a Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation hat.

The 5th District congressman from Nashville hunted at Brush Pines Farm in Kingston Springs, about 25 miles west of Nashville. The farm is owned by Clement supporter Cal Turner, chairman and CEO of Goodlettsville-based Dollar General Stores Corp.

Roughly 40 miles away, in Brentwood south of Nashville, Alexander joined U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and friend Steve Smith in a dove hunt at Smith’s Ravenswood Farm.

Like Clement, Alexander displayed an “Aw, shucks” attitude about his shooting ability.

“The doves applauded when they heard I was coming. They said, ‘We’re safe; we’re safe,”‘ joked Alexander, who arrived with a 20-gauge Winchester shotgun in his right hand and a box of shells in his left.

But for the candidates, going hunting on a sun-drenched September day was about more than laughs and recreation.

The real targets weren’t doves, but voters.

“It’s interesting that we have both of our Senate candidates hunting,” Frist said. “I’m sure both would like the endorsements of both the official organizations and also the people who enjoy the outdoors across Tennessee.”

Clement and Alexander are seeking the Senate seat being vacated by Fred Thompson, a Republican who chose not to seek re-election.

During the Clinton-Gore administration gun-control fights, the National Rifle Association became identified almost exclusively as an ally of the Republican Party. Since Al Gore lost his home state amid a barrage of NRA commercials in the 2000 presidential campaign, Democratic candidates in many states have scrambled to get back on the organization’s good side.

But the candidates’ views, not their prowess with a firearm, will be the determining factor, said NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox, a native of Jackson, Tenn.

“You are seeing a number of folks who recognize how the political winds are blowing,” Cox told The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis. “We certainly have a difficult job in making the decisions on who is the better candidate and who is the Johnny-come-lately.”

The NRA didn’t endorse anyone in Tennessee’s Senate primaries. Cox expects the organization will endorse a candidate in the general election, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Like Alexander and Clement, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Bredesen tried to win Tennessee sportsmen’s favor on Monday.

Bredesen started the day at “The Great Tennessee Trap Shoot” in Oak Ridge and later attended a barbecue lunch and dove hunt at the Turner family farm in Humboldt.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Van Hilleary did not hunt Monday but plans to participate in a dove shoot in Crockett County on Saturday, Hilleary spokesman Frank Cagle said.

Alexander, a former two-term governor and two-time presidential candidate, said he hopes to receive the NRA’s Senate endorsement.

“My opponent talks about the Second Amendment, but when he goes to Washington, he doesn’t vote to support it,” Alexander said. “For example, he voted to ban (firearms) in some cases. He voted for waiting periods in some cases.”

Informed of Alexander’s comments, Clement responded, “That’s ridiculous.”

Clement said he supported a crime bill that banned 19 assault weapons and put a three-day waiting period on handgun purchases. But he later voted to lift the assault weapon ban, he said.

“In every piece of legislation, you have to decide, ‘Does it have more good than bad?”‘ Clement said. “And that omnibus crime bill had community policing, it had stronger enforcement of our laws, and therefore I supported it.”

Clement said he still supports the waiting period for gun purchases but would prefer instant background checks.

Such checks would help ensure that someone with a criminal background or mental problems was not allowed to buy a firearm, he said.

“I think there ought to be instant checks,” agreed Alexander, who opposes any waiting period. “I think when you go out to the Bass Pro Shop and buy a gun that they ought to be able to tell you in a few minutes if you can buy it or not.”

In the gubernatorial race, the Bredesen campaign accused Hilleary of “ducking out” after first accepting an invitation to join Bredesen for “a little friendly target practice” at the Oak Ridge trap shoot.

Cagle said Hilleary never received an invitation to the event and knew nothing about it until the media started calling about flyers advertising a “Van and Phil shootout.”

“We smell a rat, quite frankly,” Cagle said.

Hilleary, the 4th District congressman from Spring City, is a lifetime NRA member and has received the organization’s endorsement in every campaign he’s run since 1992, Cagle said. While the NRA endorsed Hilleary in the primary, it has not endorsed anyone yet for the general election.

“I’ve been a hunter all my life and enjoyed the outdoors and enjoy shooting,” said Bredesen, a former Nashville mayor. “I think sometimes when you’re a Democrat and a big-city mayor, that’s not always obvious.

“I just want to tell people, ‘This is something that I share with most Tennesseans.”‘

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On the Net:

Lamar Alexander: http://www.lamaralexander.com

Bob Clement: http://www.bobclement.com

Phil Bredesen: http://www.philbredesenforgovernor.com/

Van Hilleary: http://www.vanhilleary.com/

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