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Can a Pol Get Elected Without Wooing the Gun Lobby?

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Even though sport hunters account for only four percent of the nation - not much more than vegetarians and considerably less than LGBTs - many candidates, even dove candidates, feel compelled to don Blaze Orange and show the nation their Davy Crockett (or Annie Oakley) side.

Who can forget Bill Clinton and John Kerry's campaign-timed duck outings for the benefit of photographers ? And Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton's verbal credentialing during the last election? (Romney ended up ridiculed by the gun press for calling himself a lifelong hunter on the basis of a few hunting trips in which he shot rodents, rabbits and "small varmints" and Clinton was termed "Annie Oakley" by the man who would defeat her.)

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's hunting histrionics were especially embarrassing when he was gunning for the presidency.

No one had thought he was soft on animals anyway, after defending New Mexico's legal cockfighting on the Tonight show in 2006 by saying there were "strong arguments on both sides." ("Really?" replied Jay Leno. "What's the good argument for cockfighting? It keeps roosters off the street? It gives those roosters without any skills a chance to make it?")

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Nonetheless, Richardson decided to try larger fare than his usual doves for an election boost, though the latter is more difficult, he told the press. "When you're doing oryx and elk, you tend to get one or two shots. You've got to find them," he told the Associated Press.

At Ted Turner's Armendaris Ranch in New Mexico where hunters pay thousands to kill bison, deer, antelopes and turkeys according to National Geographic, Richardson killed an oryx, a long-horned, African antelope. Photos show him kneeling beside the beast, its muzzle sunk into the sand, in a mirror image of Sarah Palin's famous pose beside her caribou, bleeding from its mouth, with her daughter in tow. A fence is clearly visible in the background.

Still, Richardson's play for guydom fared better than that of presidential candidate and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee who is also a Baptist preacher.

Huckabee did everything right for a cammo close-up. He scheduled the photo op pheasant hunt, held in rural Iowa, post Christmas day when there is little news. He intoned the usual DNR catechism about killing being stewardship -"It's the hunters who actually keep the wildlife alive"- and he wore a cap that said EAT, SLEEP, HUNT. Cute.

But Huckabee got no bounce out of the event.

Maybe it was the rumors swirling about his son, David, hanging a dog while a counselor at the Boy Scout's Camp Pioneer in Hatfield, AK in 1998 from which he was fired, years before the Michael Vick dog murders. No charges were filed says Newsweek but talk of obstruction of an investigation and a family culture of cruelty were in the air.

But probably it was the way Huckabee joked about the bird he killed with his 12-gauge having his opponent's name written on its butt that lost him points.

"See, that's what happens if you get in my way," he chortled to the press as if he had thrown a horse shoe instead of ended a life. If a pastor finds death funny, whether an animal's or a human's, what does he take seriously, the press wondered out loud.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford didn't try to use hunting to get elected - but getting on the wrong side of a gun (both of them if you count the one used for "fun") almost cost him his post.

While most people know he went AWOL from his gubernatorial duties over Father's Day in 2009 to "hike the Appalachian Trail " in the arms of his Buenos Aires consort, María Belén Chapur, fewer realize the official delegation included dove hunting in Cordoba, Argentina. An excursion paid for by his appointee and Cabinet member Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor.

News reports don't give the name of the dove hunting lodge where the wing shooting took place, but Cordoba is said to be a dove hunter's paradise. At JJ Cecelia's Estancia, "It is normal to shoot between 1,000 to 1,500 shells per hunter per day" according to the web site and hunters "regularly use two guns to prevent barrel overheating" thanks to "no bag limits or seasons." Photos show mountains of deceased birds in front of grinning he men.

Of course the politician usually associated with hunting is former Vice President Dick Cheney. But while the nation remembers - and laughs at - how he shot his companion, 78-year-old attorney Harry Whittington, in the face in Texas instead of a quail in 2006 it knows less about his love of put-and-take hunting.

The day after Cheney and George W. Bush were re-elected, the Veep took Air Force Two to Pierre, SD -- thank you tax payers -- where a motorcade sped him to a Gettysburg area hunting lodge for a victory hunt, even before John Kerry's concession speech.

Unfortunately, all that bloodlust apparently fried his defibrillator and Cheney was rushed to George Washington Medical Center in Washington DC for shortness of breath. When press gathered at the hospital (there was a reserved parking space with his name, the joke went) Lynne Cheney, the Veep's wife said, "Sorry we ruined your Saturday," and that Cheney was going to be okay. No one cheered.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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