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Rudy and the NRA

In politics, showing up is at least half the battle.

So, the very fact that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has, shall we say, a mixed record with the National Rifle Association, spoke in person today at the NRA's conference in Washington won him some points with the assembled crowd.

Giuliani and his team know that he isn't likely to convince every NRA members (or even most of them) that he is their kind of candidate in 2008. But by showing up and emphasizing the views they have in common, Giuliani is hoping that he can lessen the level of animosity toward him from gun owners.

The speech he gave attempted to do just that -- pointing out areas of agreement rather than harping on areas of disagreement. "There are a lot of things you and I have in common," Giuliani said at the start of the speech, a point he returned to again and again throughout the address. (Giuliani was almost too willing to acknowledge the 800-lpound gorilla in the room).

Giuliani also sought to put the emphasis on reducing crime and taking guns out of the hands of criminals rather than his past positions in favor of restricting gun owners rights. Quoting Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Giuliani said that the "single most social conservative value is crime control and public safety," a line that drew applause from the wary crowd and set the frame of Giuliani's argument.

He used his resume as an Associate Attorney General and Mayor of New York City to further that argument, noting -- as he regularly does in his stump speech -- that he transformed the Big Apple from a crime hub into the safest big city in America. Giuliani, interestingly, didn't stress his experience on Sept. 11, 2001 during the speech but did say that that day "did cast something of a different light" on his views on the 2nd amendment.

During the question and answer period, Giuliani (again) benefitted from the very human instinct to avert conflict in face to face interactions. He whacked such softballs as whether he would appoint strict constructionist judges to the courts (a resounding yes) and voiced support for the enforcement of the current gun laws on the books before any more laws are passed.

The one semi-tough question Giuliani faced was on his decision as mayor to sue gun manufacturers, a case that is being heard in a U.S. Appeals Court today. Giuliani said the lawsuilt had ramifications he had not anticipated but defended his actions as an attempt to use every law and every interpretation of the law to lower the crime rate in New York City.

That explanation is not likely to satisfy many ardents supporters of gun rights; it certainly didn't sit well with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who addressed the group earlier in the day. McCain called the the lawsuit a "particularly devious effort to use lawsuits to bankrupt our great gun manufacturers."

Over all, Giuliani probably did himself some good today by making a personal appearance with a group he knows isn't filled with loyal supporters. He threw his audience enough red meat ("The Second Amendent is a personal right" and a strong advocacy for mandatory sentencing for crimes committed with a gun) to soften some of the opposition to him.

Giuliani will never be the NRA's candidate. He knows that. By seeking to find common ground with the group, he is surely hoping that it will not work actively to keep him from the nomination. Neutrality is is victory for Giuliani in this case.

(On an entirely unrelated note, Giuliani fielded a cell phone call from his wife duing the speech. Mike Shear over at The Trail has more details.)

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 21, 2007; 2:10 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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