Second Amendment Cheat Sheet

The most competitive races for pro-gun Americans to watch.

By Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute 

11/03/00 9:20 a.m., National Review Online

With the Presidency, the U.S. House, and the U.S. Senate all hanging narrowly in the balance, Second Amendment advocates may assume that whatever is good news for Republicans is good news for the right to arms.

At the leadership level, this is certainly true. Except for Rep. John Dingell (D, MI), the congressional Democratic leadership runs the gamut from anti-gun to extremely anti-gun. So, gun rights are very much helped by continuing a Republican majority in Congress. But at the level of some of the important individual races around the country, it's not always true that Republicans are necessarily the better choice. Here's a run-down of some of the most competitive and important races for Second Amendment supporters to watch on election night. The candidate grades come from the NRA Political Victory Fund's website, which has the full NRA PVF voting guide (including state legislative races).

Senator Diane Feinstein and challenger Tom Campbell both score an F, but the grade understates how destructive Feinstein really is. If not for her hard-working personal lobbying, the 1994 federal ban on so-called "assault weapons" never would have passed the U.S. House. She's probably the very worst U.S. Senator on Bill of Rights issues across the board. Campbell would at least be better on non-gun Bill of Rights matters, and these issues (such as protection from unreasonable search and seizure) indirectly support Second Amendment rights.

The race for the Silicon Valley 15th Congressional District being vacated by Campbell pits F-rated Republican Jim Cunneen against the equally dismal Mink Honda.

Democrat Sam Gejdenson (F) has represented eastern Connecticut for 20 years, fending off very tough challenges in 1992, 1994 (winning by only 21 votes!), and 1996. He had an easy race in 1998, but is now in a close match with A-rated state representative Rob Simmons.

The open Senate seat being vacated by A-rated Republican Connie Mack offers the gun prohibition lobby one of their best chances for a pick-up. Democrat insurance commissioner Bill Nelson holds a high-single-digit lead in many polls over Rep. Bill McCollum (A-). McCollum deserves his A- on guns, but has a flawed record on many other criminal justice issues, including his strong advocacy of increased wiretapping.

McCollum had a comfortable hold on his old Orlando district. But after the Club for Growth helped Republican Ric Keller (A-rated by NRA PVF) to a primary win, Democrats figured on picking up the seat for F-rated Democrat Linda Chapin. The race currently looks close.

The North Shore suburbs near Chicago have been represented for the last 20 years by Republican John Porter, easily one of the most anti-gun Republicans to be found between the coasts. Porter's office has served as a feeder for the staff of Handgun Control, Inc. With Porter retiring, there's a close battle between two F-rated candidates, Democrat Lauren Beth Gash, and Republic Mark Kirk.

Incumbent Republican Anne Northrup (C) is receiving an unexpectedly strong challenge from Democratic state Rep. Eleanor Jordan (F) for this Louisville district.

In Lexington, incumbent Republican Ernie Fletcher (A) was high on the list of most-endangered Republicans in his race against former Rep. Scottie Baesler (F), but Fletcher appears to be pulling ahead.

Besides holding the key to the presidential race between Al Gore (F-rated currently; A-rated during most of his tenure in Congress) and George Bush (A-rated by NRA, B-rated by some other gun groups), Michigan also hosts one of the most important Senate races — between incumbent Republican Spence Abraham (A) and very strong challenger Rep. Debbie Stabenow (F). Michigan's Upper Peninsula is represented by Democrat Bart Stupak. He generally had a good record on guns until 1999, when he voted in favor of a proposal that would have given the BATF regulatory authority to destroy gun shows, including the power to tax them without limit. Now C-rated, Stupak is being challenged by A-rated Chuck Yob. In the Lansing seat being vacated by Stabenow, both candidates are A-rated, but Republican Mike Rogers won the NRA endorsement over Democrat Dianne Bynum.

The voucher ballot initiative in Michigan has received lots of national attention, but the key Michigan initiative for gun owners is Proposal 2. The Proposal, backed by Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, would require a 2/3 vote of the legislature to pass a bill on any subject that local governments can pass their own laws on. Retroactive to March 1, the Proposal would revive the Detroit and Wayne County harassment lawsuits against firearms manufacturers, which the legislature banned last spring. The Proposal would also make it practically impossible for the pro-rights majority in the Michigan legislature to enact a law allowing licensed, trained adults to carry handguns for lawful protection. 

Incumbent Republican Senator Rod Grams (A+) will go down to the wire against department store millionaire Mark Dayton (F).

In rural southwest Minnesota, Democrat incumbent David Minge's F rating puts him far out of step with his district. Challenger Mark Kennedy (A) is now given a serious chance of pulling an upset.

Democratic Rep. Bill Luther (F) of Minneapolis-St. Paul beat John Kline (A) by only 4 points in 1998, and the two are engaged in another close race, with Kline being much better funded than last time.

This state features the bizarre Senate race between incumbent Republican John Ashcroft (A) and the ghost of Governor Mel Carnahan (F).

One of the most-watched House open seats is the 6th Congressional District in the northwest part of the state. Vying to replace conservative Democrat Pat Danner are her son Steve, and Republican Sam Graves, both A-rated.

Incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns (A) is in a tough race with Brian Schweitzer, who refused to fill out the NRA questionnaire.

The open House seat features a competitive race between two A candidates, Democrat Nancy Keenan, and Republican Dennis Rehberg. The NRA PVF endorsed Rehberg.

New Jersey
Democrat zillionaire John Corzine (F) and Representative Bob Franks (D) are still in a close fight, perhaps as the result of backlash against Corzine's lavish spending.

The race for Franks' open seat involves two anti-gun candidates, Republican Mike Ferguson, and Democrat Maryanne Connelly.

New York
F-rated Hillary Clinton would immediately become an anti-gun leader in the Senate, as she attempted to use anti-gun women to build a grassroots base for a Presidential race in 2004 or 2008. Rick Lazio deserves his D+ rating, but would not make gun restrictions a top priority. Should Bush win the Presidential election, conservatives might be better off with Hillary in the Senate, for she would be a godsend to conservative direct-mail campaigns.

In New York's 1st Congressional District on eastern Long Island, pro-gun Republican turned Democrat Michael Forbes was defeated in his party's primary. He will almost certainly be replaced by B-rated Republican Felix Grucci.

The 2d District, also on Long Island, used to belong to Lazio. This seat could go to either Republican Joan Johnson, or Democrat Steve Israel, both anti-gun.

North Carolina
Western North Carolina is represented by Republican Charlie Taylor (A+) who is facing a tough contest with Democrat Sam Neill (A).

With John Kasich's retirement, the 12th Congressional District (Columbus) is up for grabs between Republican Pat Tiberi (A) and Democrat Maryellen O'Shaughnessey (F).

In the open seat in the 2nd District (Muskogee and the northeast), both Democrat Andy Ewing and Republican Brad Carson get an A.

Incumbent Republican Rick Santorum (A+) has a comfortable lead over Rep. Ron Klink (C, although with a good record for most of his congressional career).

In Klink's old 4th Congressional District (western Penn.) Republican state Sen. Melissa Hart (A) has a solid lead over Democratic state Rep. Terry Van (F). The size of Hart's lead in this working-class Democratic district is no doubt partly due to her strong record on gun rights.

Democratic Rep. Ken Bentsen (F) is facing an unexpectedly serious challenge from Phil Sudan (A), who seeks to take the Houston district away from the nephew of former Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen.

The 2d Congressional District was represented by Republican Merril Cook, an explosives manufacturer who defeated himself with various personal problems. He lost the primary to Republican Derek Smith (A), who has to face the very formidable Jim Matheson (F), the son of a former Governor.

In the Senate, A-rated George Allen offers the best chance for a pro-gun pickup, in his strong challenge to Democrat incumbent Chuck Robb (F).

Republican Senator Slade Gorton (A) is in a very tight contest with former Rep. Maria Cantwell (F). In the open 2nd Congressional District, comprising the San Juan Islands and northwest Washington, there's a close race between Republican John Koster (A) and Democrat Rick Larsen (F).

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