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Heston urges gun owners to vote for Bush

HERSHEY, Pa. (Reuters) - National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston, describing the presidential campaign as "a holy war" for the constitutional rights of gun owners, exhorted a cheering crowd in Pennsylvania Wednesday to win the battleground state for Republican nominee George W. Bush.

Flanked by Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Ridge and top staff of the gun rights group, the veteran Hollywood actor compared NRA members to the 18th century American patriots who won independence from Britain.

"They won our freedom with bullets. But we can defend our freedom with ballots. That is the holy war, and it is a war, never doubt that," Heston told an estimated crowd of 700 people in Hershey, a manufacturing town near the state capital, Harrisburg.

"That is a war that you in this room can help wage and win," said Heston, adding: "I urge you to find every gun owner, every NRA member, everyone who treasures American freedom and get them out to the polls on November 7. It is our duty to be blinded to everything else."

Heston predicted Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore would "hammer your gun rights into oblivion" if elected. The vice president, in the third and final presidential debate Tuesday night, said his proposals for gun safety would not have any effect on hunters or sportsmen.

Heston said the next president would be able to nominate as many as four U.S. Supreme Court justices, and that Democrats would use that advantage to undercut gun owners' rights if they retained control of the White House.

The argument is similar to one used by abortion rights advocates, who warn that a Bush presidency could install enough anti-abortion justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established a woman's right to an abortion in the 1970s.

Pennsylvania seen crucial to Bush

NRA support is seen as key to the Republican strategy for winning Pennsylvania, the fifth-largest state in terms of the Electoral College. Some analysts say the Texas governor must win Pennsylvania's 23 electoral votes if he hopes to assemble the 270 Electoral College votes needed for election.

Earlier this month, statewide polls showed Gore with leads ranging into the double digits. But analysts say the race has tightened, with Gore still leading by several points.

"He who wins Pennsylvania wins the White House. There's no doubt about it. This state will vote for the next president, whoever that is," said Pennsylvania State University political science professor Michael Young.

Pennsylvania, where Democrats have a 500,000-vote edge in registration, is the biggest of several Northern industrial states, including Ohio and Michigan, being targeted by the Bush campaign.

Analysts say the state's estimated 1.2 million gun owners could help Republicans compensate for potential weakness in other large voting blocs, including senior citizens concerned about Social Security and Medicare, union members, and moderate Republican woman who oppose Bush on abortion.

Heston arrived in Pennsylvania from a series of appearances in Michigan, which has a similar electorate rich in blue-collar conservatives, hunters and sportsmen.

Reuters news material shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium.


Wednesday, October 18, 2000


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