Campaigning in liberal San Francisco in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama was caught ridiculing those “who cling to their guns and religion.” The president’s cavalier attitude toward gun owners could undermine his re-election effort, especially in New Hampshire, where guns mean jobs.
In New Hampshire, the gun issue isn’t just about the Second Amendment and freedom. More than 2,000 state residents are employed by firearms and defense-related manufacturers, including Sig Sauer (which manufactures the guns used by the Secret Service) and Sturm, Ruger & Company (which reported a 38% increase in sales between the third quarter of 2010 and the third quarter of 2010). Add that to the 1,500 jobs supported by New Hampshire hunters and the 4,000 jobs supported by Granite State sportsmen, and you can see how the firearms issue takes on greater meaning in the state.
The GOP candidates are already talking about creating more manufacturing jobs. Jon Huntsman has made ushering in a “manufacturing renaissance” a central theme of his candidacy. So has Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum, who has blue-collar manufacturing in his veins. Mitt Romney is friendly to light manufacturing, as Massachusetts shares many of the same industry challenges as New Hampshire. The gun-jobs angle would appeal to voters who are concerned about the economy as well as voters who are concerned about the Second Amendment.
You can bet freedom-loving, jobs-needing sportsmen in South Carolina and Florida are paying attention. Data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveal that there are 208,000 hunters in the Palmetto State and 236,000 in the Sunshine State.
Moving into the general election, the GOP nominee should note that an astounding 80% of sportsmen consider themselves “likely voters.” Approximately 20% of the entire population of major swing states — Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida — hold either a hunting license, a fishing license, or both. These patriotic sportsmen aren’t merely “clinging to their guns,” Mr. President. They are helping create much-needed jobs. For the good of their own campaigns and for the good of the GOP in November, Republicans should seize on this issue.
Then our nominee can ask President Obama why, on issue after issue — from the Keystone Pipeline to gun manufacturing — he puts jobs second and his own liberal base first.
Michael J. Hudome is a Republican media consultant whose clients have included John McCain for President, all four national committees and several current and former members of the House and Senate. Paul Erhardt is vice president of MH Media, a contributing editor for the Outdoor Wire Digital Network and an expert on the firearms industry.