McCain Woos the NRA

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain fired back at Sen. Barack Obama during a speech on Friday before members of the National Rifle Association. McCain affirmed his conservative and foreign policy credentials.

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Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): The naïve and irresponsible belief that tough talk from Washington will somehow cause Iran to give up its nuclear program in support for terrorism…

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Senator Barack Obama was responding yesterday to remarks by President Bush earlier this week that direct negotiations with rogue nations would appease terrorists. Mr. Obama's comments were aimed squarely at Senator John McCain, and Senator McCain fired right back while speaking at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association in Louisville, where as NPR's David Schaper reports, the dispute may have helped Mr. McCain be a bit more popular with a block of voters who've been lukewarm to his candidacy.

DAVID SCHAPER: McCain blasted Obama for calling him naïve and irresponsible, saying Obama should've known better, and McCain added that talking with the president of Iran, who calls the state of Israel a stinking corpse and who arms terrorists to kill Americans, won't convince Iran to give up its nuclear program.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): It is reckless to suggest that unconditional meetings will advance our interests.

SCHAPER: McCain went on to further belittle Obama's position, suggesting he is the one who is naïve.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. McCAIN: You know, it would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don't have enemies, but that's not the world we live in, and until Senator Obama understands that reality, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment and determination to keep us safe.

(Soundbite of applause)

SCHAPER: The sharp attack drew the biggest applause for McCain from thousands of NRA members with whom he's had his differences. McCain supports requiring background checks of those who purchase firearms at gun shows, and the NRA also opposes his McCain-Feingold campaign-finance legislation because of his efforts to lessen the influence of powerful lobbying groups like the NRA. McCain addressed those differences head-on, but he told his audience they have much more in common and that he is a staunch defender of the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms. He warned that both Democrats still in the presidential race are not.

Sen. McCAIN: If either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is elected president, the rights of law-abiding gun owners will be at risk, my friends, and have no doubt about it.

(Soundbite of applause)

SCHAPER: That message seemed to resonate with NRA members. George Paris(ph) of Louisville, Kentucky was one of many wearing blue stickers that take issue with comments Obama made at a fundraiser in San Francisco last month.

Mr. GEORGE PARIS (Member, National Rifle Association): It says I'm a bitter gun owner, and I vote. Mr. Obama was a little condescending in his opinion of gun owners, and we just wanted to tell him what we think of that.

SCHAPER: The comments Obama calls regrettable, in which he referred to some conservatives clinging to God and guns, is becoming a rallying cry with some NRA members who admittedly weren't overly enthusiastic to have McCain as the GOP nominee.

Mr. ART JONES (Member, National Rifle Association): He was not my first choice.

SCHAPER: Art Jones of Jacksonville, Florida was one of several here who said they were hoping to hear reassurances from McCain on gun owners' rights and other core conservative issues. Others say they'll be watching to see if McCain keeps his word to conservatives. Jones, though, says he likes what he heard from the Arizona senator.

Mr. JONES: Pretty good, but I hope he picks a good running mate.

SCHAPER: Suggesting McCain still has a little ways to go to shore up his support among the Republican party's more-conservative wing. David Schaper, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: That's Bill Wear(ph), and you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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