Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama's hopes for carrying Montana have diminished over the past few months, and Montanans say it comes down to one word: guns.
"In Montana, we like our guns. We like big guns. We like little guns. We like shotguns. We like pistols. Most of us own two or three guns. Gun control is hitting what you shoot at," the state's Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer told the New York Times in April. When asked why he thought the Democratic nominee would not win his state, he replied, "guns."
After Al Gore narrowly lost the 2000 election, President Clinton said his support for gun control was partly to blame for his defeat. Then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe urged his party to abandon gun control issues in future campaigns. "I believe we ought to move it out, let the individual communities decide their gun laws and how guns ought to be treated," he said at the time.
Democrats had hoped to put the issue behind them, with 2004 presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry going so far as to stage a campaign stop in Ohio to go goose hunting - and suffering at the hands of pundits who mocked him for pandering.
This year, Mr. Obama's voting record, coupled with that of running mate Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, has resurrected the gun issue, and John McCain's campaign sees it as a major wedge issue to win over gun-owning swing Democrats and working-class union members in key Democratic bastions.
"Absolutely, we're going to emphasize guns and the Second Amendment. They're fundamental issues for Democrats, independents and Republicans in the battleground states that will decide this election," said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.
Sen. Barack Obama has resurrected the gun issue in the fight for Montana. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
Mr. McCain has compiled a largely pro-gun voting record in the Senate, but he has had some differences with the National Rifle Association on his support for background checks at gun shows and his campaign finance reform law, which restricts certain campaign TV ads among advocacy groups such as the NRA. More recently, though, his selection of running-mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a hunter and NRA member, has boosted his standing.
"We've had some disagreements, and everyone knows what they are. We have agreed to disagree," NRA Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre said. "But we'd be foolish to ignore the vast numbers of areas where John McCain has been a friend to gun owners and sportsmen."
cMcCain: Voted against a ban on assault-type weapons but is in favor of requiring background checks at gun shows. Voted to shield gun makers and dealers from civil suits. "I believe the Second Amendment ought to be preserved - which means no gun control."
cObama: Voted to leave gun makers and dealers open to suit. Also, as an Illinois state lawmaker, supported a ban on all forms of semiautomatic weapons and tighter state restrictions generally on firearms.