Santorum May Need A Photo-Op Reload On Gun-Rights Issue

This Iowa photo op apparently wasn't enough to stem many gun owners' doubts about Rick Santorum. i i

This Iowa photo op apparently wasn't enough to stem many gun owners' doubts about Rick Santorum. Chris Carlson/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Chris Carlson/AP
This Iowa photo op apparently wasn't enough to stem many gun owners' doubts about Rick Santorum.

This Iowa photo op apparently wasn't enough to stem many gun owners' doubts about Rick Santorum.

Chris Carlson/AP

A Thursday visit to Rick Santorum's South Carolina headquarters suggested that the Republican presidential candidate may need to go beyond that Iowa photo op of himself pheasant hunting in a bright orange hat and vest if he is to quell some gun owners' doubts about him.

When I walked into the headquarters, located in Mt. Pleasant, just across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from Charleston, volunteer Kathy Hughes, a retired teacher staffing the office was on the phone with someone who obviously took personal gun rights very seriously.

"I'm just a volunteer," she told the person on the other end. "I'm a conservative myself. One of his campaign people told me that he not only hunts but has seven guns and his wife carries a concealed weapon permit."

It was clear the person she was talking to wasn't persuaded.

"I think Rick Santorum is a great guy," Hughes continued. I can't even imagine him trying to take away your Second Amendment rights."

Hughes had been fielding calls like that all day. There's considerable skepticism about Santorum among some in the gun-rights hardliners even though he has in the past earned the National Rifle Association's highest rating.

Unfortunately for Santorum, he gets a lower grade from the NRA's rival organization, the Gun Owners of America which views the NRA as somewhat wobbly on the Second Amendment.

The callers to the campaign office who wanted reassurances on Santorum's steadfastness on gun rights were apparently revved up by a Thursday email alert from GOA which chided the former senator from Pennsylvania for not filling out the survey it provided to the presidential candidates.

The alert also notified members that Santorum failed to get the group's highest grade. An excerpt:

"Santorum, a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, currently holds a "B-" rating from Gun Owners of America. That indicates he was with us for much—but not all—of the time he was in office.

"It is troubling, therefore, that Santorum still hasn't returned the GOA presidential survey.

"Mitt Romney also has not returned a survey, but we know why. He's already come out in support of massive gun control initiatives such as a semi-auto ban and waiting periods for gun purchases. Romney is the real RINO in this race (Republican In Name Only) — as evidenced by the fact that anti-gun Senator John McCain just endorsed him."

Evidently, part of what makes Santorum suspect in the eyes of some gun owners was his support as the junior senator from the Keystone State for his then senior senator, Arlen Spector, when the latter senator was running for re-election. The Boston Globe reports this has come up in New Hampshire. Spector supported gun control.

Hughes, the volunteer in the headquarters office, was mystified by all the suspicion of Santorum.On telling a woman caller about the candidate's seven guns and his wife's concealed carry permit, she was nonplussed when the caller said all that could be a charade by someone hellbent on taking away gun rights.

If Hughes harbored any doubts about Santorum, they weren't obvious.

She's been sold on him ever since she got to "talk with him at length" when he visited the Charleston GOP early last year before he officially entered the presidential race.

"You can tell a lot about a person when you look someone in the eye, especially when you're an old school teacher. He impressed me."

That probably won't be enough, evidently, for Santorum to convince some gun owners, however, in South Carolina and elsewhere that he should be their candidate.

Could another hunting photo op be in Santorum's near future? It just so happens that it's open season in South Carolina right now on certain migratory birds and will be until right after the state's Jan. 21 Republican primary.

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