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Starting Gate: Rudy's Day At The NRA

(AP Photo/Jim Cole)
As reported yesterday, Rudy Giuliani will seek to "clarify" his views on gun control and the Second Amendment when he speaks at the NRA's "Celebration of American Values" today.

How he's received there will help clarify Giuliani's chances of winning the GOP nomination. Because of his past strong support for gun control laws – and some spats with the NRA itself – he'll never be a darling of the organization. His challenge is to convince them he's not public enemy number one, and it's an issue his primary opponents are eager to discuss.

John McCain will be among several Republican candidates addressing the conference today and will jab Giuliani on the issue, according to the AP. McCain will reference the lawsuit Giuliani and other mayors filed against gun manufacturers in 2000 and remarks he made in a televised interview where he referred to the NRA as "extremists."

"My friends, gun owners are not extremists; you are the core of modern America," McCain will say, according to prepared remarks. "The Second Amendment is unique in the world and at the core of our constitutional freedoms. It guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms. To argue anything else is to reject the clear meaning of our founding fathers."

How big a challenge is the issue for Giuliani? CBS News' manager of surveys Anthony Salvanto takes a look:

In addressing Giuliani's stand on guns and how he handled the issue in New York City, Giuliani stresses local decision-making, as a statement on his Web site makes clear: "Rudy understands that what works in New York doesn't necessarily work in Mississippi or Montana."

Speaking to voters in rural states may be a general challenge ahead for Giuliani. In a recent CBS News/New York Times Poll, Republican Primary voters think Rudy only understands the issues of people in big cities – 43 percent do – compared to just 15 percent who think he also understands small towns and rural areas.

However the guns issue, specifically, does not yet appear to be a sticking point with current Giuliani backers. When his current supporters were asked if there was an issue on which they disagree with Giuliani, "abortion" was volunteered by some (8 percent), but "guns" was not.

In a CBS News/New York Times Poll conducted this past spring most Americans were opposed to the general idea of a handgun ban, and Republican primary voters in particular were overwhelmingly opposed to such an idea (8 in 10 were).

Republicans, generally, are the most likely partisan group to say gun control laws should be left as they are. Democrats and Independents, by contrast, are more likely to say laws should be more strict.

The Undercard Heats Up: Joe Biden has a problem and it's name is Bill Richardson. The Delaware senator has met with some success in Iowa, gaining endorsements like that of state House leader Kevin McCarthy. But in order to enter the discussion for real in January, he's got to pass Richardson first. The New Mexico Governor has run a strong campaign – he's been able to raise enough money to run advertising that has been well received and his poll standings have crept up enough to separate him from the field.

The Biden-Richardson tension was evident at last night's AARP Democratic candidate forum in Iowa. When Richardson argued that his executive experience made him best prepared to be president, Biden reorted, "That's like saying, 'I played halfback when I was in high school; I can play in the pros.'"

CBS News' Joy Lin reports that Biden's campaign also released a press statement yesterday accusing Richardson of changing his stance on Iraq. They are apparently irked by an email the Richardson campaign sent to supporters, in which Richardson was touted as the "only candidate with a concrete solution to the war." Biden's press release responded to Richardson's "changing positions" by stating that, as late as April 2007, the governor of New Mexico had said he would leave some residual troops behind in Iraq and only recently altered his stance to withdrawing all troops.

"Governor Richardson is right that he represents both experience and change -- he has a lot of experience changing his mind on matters both large and small," Biden's campaign manager Luis Navarro said in a press release.

When asked for a response, Richardson's campaign press secretary Tom Reynolds did not deny that Richardson had changed his Iraq strategy but said in a statement that a "'stay-the-course' mentality, regardless of outcome, is what got us into the mess in the first place. When facts change a President must be willing to adjust."

"A qualified and responsible commander-in-chief must always be willing to evolve strategies, tactics and battle plans based on changing conditions," said Reynolds. "When it became clear that the Iraqis themselves want us to leave and that the civil war continues to escalate, Governor Richardson decided it was time all of the troops be pulled out, as there is no military solution to the conflict, only a political one."

Around The Track

  • Barack Obama makes health care personal in a new ad today which begins with a picture of his mother holding him as a child. Text: "My mother died of cancer at 53. In those last painful months, she was more worried about paying her medical bills than getting well. I hear stories like hers every day. For twenty years, Washington's talked about health care reform and reformed nothing. I've got a plan to cut costs and cover everyone. But unless we stop the bickering and the lobbyists, we'll be in the same place twenty years from now. I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message because to fix health care, we have to fix Washington."
  • Des Moines Register's David Yepsen breaks down last night's AARP Democratic forum and notes that given the close three-way battle in Iowa, the "clear loser" was Obama for not participating.
  • Giuliani used some of Hillary Clinton's own words to attack the New York Senator for her vote against a senate resolution condemning the MoveOn "betray us" ad, accusing her of supporting "politics of personal destruction." Giuliani said, "I'm not intimidated by … I think they are the worst thing in American politics. … They are precisely what the Clintons used to talk about as participating in the politics of personal destruction."
  • Speaking of guns, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley yesterday went after Fred Thompson for stumping at gun shows in recent weeks. "The first thing you think is, 'How about a police officer just driving through a community. Why don't you go visit them and talk to them about gun violence. Why don't you talk to some families of gun violence (victims).' It's like machoism: 'I'm gonna go to a gun show, walk around and show you how macho I am.' That's not machoism. That's strictly a political stunt."
  • Thompson is expected to unveil his New Hampshire leadership team soon. According to the Manchester Union-Leader, former Giuliani supporter Chris Wood will serve as political director "while GOP activist Liz Christoffersen is the state campaign coordinator and former Executive Councilor Bill Cahill is senior advisor."
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