NRA holds rallies

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is holding last-minute rallies in South Dakota, South Carolina and Wisconsin this week after endorsing various House and Senate candidates this month in a final attempt to tip the scales in several key races.

NRA spokeswoman Kelly Hobbs said the group will host events on behalf of Senate candidates John Thune (R), who is running to unseat Sen. Tom Daschle (D) in South Dakota, and Rep. Jim DeMint (R), who is competing against Democrat Inez Tenenbaum to succeed retiring Sen. Fritz Hollings (D) in South Carolina. In Wisconsin, the NRA’s efforts will focus on the presidential race.

Hobbs said that Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president and CEO, and Chris Cox, its chief lobbyist, will host the Friday and Saturday rallies, which will also serve as get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of President Bush. The NRA formally endorsed him Oct. 13.

In addition to holding the rallies, the NRA is releasing a slew of television, radio and print ads across the country this coming weekend.

The group is also focusing on key Senate races in Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania, where it’s throwing its weight behind Republicans Mel Martinez, Rep. Johnny Isakson and Sen. Arlen Specter, respectively.

The group is backing six Republican incumbents and one GOP challenger on its list of key House races: Reps. Rick Renzi (Ariz.), Jon Porter (Nev.), Bob Beauprez (Colo.), Pete Sessions (Texas), Sam Graves (Mo.) and Mark Kennedy (Minn.) and challenger Charlie Dent (Pa.).

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Chris Paulitz said it made sense for the NRA to show its support in these House races, adding that they all take place in heavily rural, gun-owning districts where hunting is popular.

The NRA has endorsed 260 House and Senate candidates this year, 17 in the Senate and 243 in the House, Hobbs said, adding that she did not have information on party breakdown.

The NRA boasts a high success rate when it comes to its endorsed candidates’ achieving victory.

In 2002, it had a 94 percent success rate in the House (it won 232 of the 246 races in which it endorsed) and an 84 percent rate in the Senate (winning 21 of 25 races).

In 2000, it had an 85 percent success rate on the federal and state levels combined.

The NRA has 4 million members and has spent roughly $20 million endorsing political candidates on all levels this year.

Elizabeth Fulk