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Senate Democrat to Keynote NRA Meeting

April 26, 2002|From Associated Press

RENO — This weekend, Georgia Sen. Zell Miller will become the first Democrat in more than a decade to give the keynote address to the National Rifle Assn.'s annual meeting here.

The first-term senator has criticized fellow Democrats for failing to understand issues important to rural voters in the South and elsewhere, including gun rights. He contends that failure cost Al Gore the 2000 presidential campaign.

"Our party can't let this happen again," Miller wrote in a column in the New York Times in June. "And given the demographic changes that determine the makeup of the House of Representatives and the Electoral College, it will happen again if the Democratic Party fails to recover its strength in the South."

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said Miller has also been a "good supporter" of the organization.

"We do have Democrats who support the NRA," he said.

Texas Rep. Martin Frost was the last Democrat to give a keynote address at the NRA's national convention, in 1991. The year before it was delivered by then-Rep. Mike Espy (R-Miss.), who later became President Clinton's agriculture secretary.

Nevada Rep. Jim Gibbons, a longtime NRA backer, is among Republicans welcoming the change of pace at the 131st annual meeting running today through Sunday.

"I applaud the NRA for broadening the inclusion of those Democrats who also support the 2nd Amendment," Gibbons said.

NRA leaders say Democrats have been warming to their group since Gore's narrow loss to George W. Bush. They say a number of Democratic congressional candidates, especially in the South and West, are emphasizing support for gun rights.

Democrats in the South will remember Gore as only the third Democrat since the Civil War to lose not only every state in the old Confederacy, but two border states as well, Miller said.

The two others, George McGovern and Walter Mondale, "had an excuse because they were crushed in national landslides," Miller said.

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