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Va. gun rights group endorses GOP top three

A gun-rights political action committee in Virginia has given its endorsement to the GOP's top three candidates this year, partly because none of the Democrats completed the group's candidate survey, its chairman said Wednesday.

The blessing from VCDL PAC, which is affiliated with the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is not exactly a surprise. The National Rifle Association's political wing has also given its seal of approval to Republicans Robert F. McDonnell, who is running for governor; Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who is seeking reelection; and Attorney General candidate Ken Cuccinelli.

But the VCDL's leaders say their group does not follow the NRA in lockstep. They said the VCDL, which claims about 5,000 dues-paying members and an email list of at least 13,000, has endorsed Democrats and independent candidates in the past. And the statewide gun-rights PAC could back some non GOP candidates when it issues its list of endorsements in House of Delegate contests next week, said VCDL PAC chairman Kenneth "Mack" Elliott. But he said the VCDL PAC's rules prohibit endorsing anyone who has not filled out the survey, and they are not sure why none of the top three Democrats did.

"Quite honestly, we're baffled," said Philip Van Cleave, president of the VCDL. He said Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds had filled them out in the past.

Deeds received the NRA Political Victory Fund's endorsement in his previous matchup against McDonnell in the 2005 Attorney General race, a decision based on his previous legislative record supporting gun rights. Many gun owners liked Deeds' sponsorship of a state constitutional amendment protecting the right to hunt and fish and his vote against former Gov. Douglas Wilder's ban on buying more than one handgun per month.
McDonnell, then a lawmaker based in Virginia Beach, had supported the ban.

But some gun owners have switched their allegiance to McDonnell in this year's gubernatorial campaign, largely because Deeds has promised to close the so-called gun show loophole.

In contrast, McDonnell has said he opposes requiring all private sellers at gun shows to conduct background checks on prospective buyers. He now says he would also support repealing the one-handgun-per-month law because instant background checks no longer make it necessary.

After examining the surveys and legislative records for the Deeds-McDonnell AG race, the VCDL PAC sat on its hands until almost the last minute, Elliott said. Then the Deeds camp noticed on the VCDL's Web site that one of Deeds' responses was incorrect. After reevaluating the surveys, the VCDL PAC gave its nod to McDonnell, who won by only 360 votes.

"I think it certainly had an impact," Elliott said.

The NRA Political Victory Fund has poured $26,700 into Virginia's political races this year, 94 percent of which went to the GOP, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

VPAP says the VCDL has $24,864 on hand and has given $500 this year, all of which went to Cuccinelli.

--Fredrick Kunkle

By Anne Bartlett  |  October 21, 2009; 12:58 PM ET
Categories:  Election 2009 , Fredrick Kunkle  
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