Hook and Ballot

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DATELINE 04.17.08 Barack and the hunting of the presidency | e-mail us

Barack Obama appears to have a hunting problem. Whether it turns out to be a hunter problem may determine whether he's the one inviting the next Classic champion to the White House.

alt="Barack Obama - Democratic Candidate, Illinois"
src="http://a.espncdn.com/winnercomm/outdoors/general/hookandballot/button_obama.jpg">He's never exactly been the shoo-in for the NRA endorsement, but on Sunday Obama managed to offend gun-owners — or, more precisely, managed to offend the sensibilities of commentators who claim to channel the collective sentiments of the estimated 80 million Americans who own guns. This, of course, is roughly akin to lumping together the entire population of a country the size of Germany or Egypt. But insofar as it goes, we can follow the argument Obama has irked the armed.

Here's the line Obama uttered at a fundraiser in San Francisco. It wasn't meant for publication, but then, those so often are the most intriguing quotes:

"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The words "bitter" and "cling" are the ones that have drawn most heat; the perception is that Obama is talking trash about Smalltown, Pa., as a bunch of xenophobes polishing their Smith & Wessons in the front pews. This opens Obama to criticism as out-of-touch with people who live in rural areas — not terribly surprising, given that he's a Harvard-educated and Chicago-based attorney now serving in the U.S. Senate. The National Review diagnosed Obama and his wife as "self-hating yuppies straight out of the 1980s;" the Wall Street Journal, reliably, found that it fit into Obama's MO of "careless condescension towards salt-of-the-earth Democrats," a topic on which the Wall Street Journal makes a particularly awkward arbiter. An analysis in the center-left New Republic seemed most apt: "He was saying to these upscale San Francisco Democrats, 'I am really one of you, and I am not one of them.' "

Others were dismayed to see Obama yield to the criticism. Salon found a mechanic in a small-town Pennsylvania trailer park who said Obama's view was "f---ing true."

Economically, Obama's point may be true, but it still bears wondering: What does a beaten-down economy have to do with gun ownership and hunting? And what does Obama's view of that connection say about his view towards hunting?

Clearly Obama's experience with guns are not those of a typical sportsman, as illustrated in his discussion of guns in the Democratic debate in Las Vegas on Jan. 15:
"We essentially have two realities, when it comes to guns, in this country. You've got the tradition of lawful gun ownership, that all of us saw, as we travel around rural parts of the country. And it is very important for many Americans to be able to hunt, fish, take their kids out, teach them how to shoot. And then you've got the reality of 34 Chicago public school students who get shot down on the streets of Chicago. We can reconcile those two realities by making sure the Second Amendment is respected and that people are able to lawfully own guns, but that we also start cracking down on the kinds of abuses of firearms that we see on the streets."
But in 2004, as a guest on "The Charlie Rose Show," he touched on the cultural import of the hunt, as it relates to life in depressed smaller towns, and in a way more thoughtful and likely more respectful than the soundbytes out of San Fran:

"So if they've got insecurity in their economic life, they don't know where their health care is coming from; they don't know what's happening with their pension. What they do know is, they can go out with their friends and hunt. And feel a sense of camaraderie, and there's a connection between hunting, and with them going out with their father to hunt, just as there's a connection maybe for their wives to going to church, and going with their grandmother to church. And if we don't have plausible answers on the economic front, and we appear to be condescending towards those traditions that are giving their lives some stability, then they're going to opt for at least that party that seems to be speaking to the things that are giving, that still provide them something solid to stand on."

And Obama did say Wednesday in the ABC debate in Philadelphia: "I have large numbers of sportsmen and gun-owners in my home state, and they have supported me precisely because I have listened to them and I know them well."

What do you think, ESPNOutdoors.com reader? Based on his public assessment of the role guns play in rural life, do you believe he knows sportsmen and gun owners? And do you believe any lack of understanding he displays will ultimately cost him in November?

Sam Eifling

DATELINE 02.04.08 Gunmakers to Sportsmen: "Get the lead out" | e-mail us

LAS VEGAS — The firearms industry's message to sportsmen at the Shooting Hunting and Trade Show is simple: vote your sport.

Honchos from the National Shooting Sports Foundation — the trade association that at a SHOT Show gala just presented the National Rifle Association with a $500,000 check — and from Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, which lobbies Congress, gathered Sunday to make their case for outdoorsmen to elect candidates friendly to arms and ammo makers.

They did so at a press event that couldn't really be called a news conference. Rather, it was a pitch by the sportsmen's lobbies to the media, asking them to cover the legal and political facets of the outdoors beat. For a group of writers and broadcasters who would rather wax rhapsodic about the feel of taking a mallard's head smooth off with a 12 gauge, or the thrilling mild panic of taking off the safety with a trophy buck in the scope, the machinations of government can be plain dull.

Click here for more on Gunmakers: "Get the lead out"

DATELINE 01.17.08 At least she's qualified to attend summits | e-mail us

alt="Hillary Clinton - Democratic Candidate, New York/Arkansas"
src="http://a.espncdn.com/winnercomm/outdoors/general/hookandballot/button_clinton.jpg">Last week ESPNOutdoors.com columnists James Swan and Don Barone did an admirable job on short notice eulogizing Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the true raging badasses of the 20th century. The inestimable Kiwi walked up the side of Mount Everest before The North Face and compressed oxygen allowed any suicidal rich kid with a passport and a two-month beard to dream of schlepping an Elph to the world's ceiling.

No wonder another Hillary would want to tan in the glow of that legacy. The mountaineer's death reminded curmudgeon nonpareil Christopher Hitchens about an old flap over another Hillary, one of the Clinton variety, and claiming she was named for him. Here's what Hitch had to say on Slate:

On a first-lady goodwill tour of Asia in April 1995 — the kind of banal trip that she now claims as part of her foreign-policy "experience" — Mrs. Clinton had been in Nepal and been briefly introduced to the late Sir Edmund Hillary, conqueror of Mount Everest. Ever ready to milk the moment, she announced that her mother had actually named her for this famous and intrepid explorer. The claim "worked" well enough to be repeated at other stops and even showed up in Bill Clinton's memoirs almost a decade later, as one more instance of the gutsy tradition that undergirds the junior senator from New York.

Sen. Clinton was born in 1947, and Sir Edmund Hillary and his partner Tenzing Norgay did not ascend Mount Everest until 1953, so the story was self-evidently untrue and eventually yielded to fact-checking. Indeed, a spokeswoman for Sen. Clinton named Jennifer Hanley phrased it like this in a statement in October 2006, conceding that the tale was untrue but nonetheless charming: "It was a sweet family story her mother shared to inspire greatness in her daughter, to great results I might add."

You can read the rest of Hitchens' column here (and the Snopes.com debunking of the Rodham family legend here. How you see the story will depend, in part, on how you see the Clintons, but whether it's a harmless error or a calculated fib, it's another example of a politician aligning herself with the accomplishments and good name of an outdoorsman.

— Sam Eifling

DATELINE 01.15.08 Ray Scott: I like Mike | e-mail us

alt="Mike Huckabee - Republican Candidate, Arkansas"
src="http://a.espncdn.com/winnercomm/outdoors/general/hookandballot/button_huckabee.jpg">A week ago today, Ray Scott was in his kitchen, taking a break from a morning shooting a TV show with the likes of bass fishing pros Kevin VanDam and Roland Martin. His phone rang. On the other end was a Republican campaign hand. The topic was Ray Scott's interest in supporting Mike Huckabee for president.

"Yessir. I am very interested in Mr. Huckabee, yes," Scott said. "I've had a little spark of interest, but I have not really reached anybody … If I can get the fishermen behind him. All I know is that I'm not going to go blank-checking, but I just think the man is a level-headed dude. And if it ain't right, then he won't do it."

From that conversation, it was a straight line to today, when Scott told me he intends to release a statement in his regular newsletter endorsing the former Arkansas governor. I caught him at home moments before he was to dash out the door to South Carolina to stump for Huckabee.

Among sporting anglers, there are few figures more established than Scott, who founded BASS 40 years ago, so no surprise that Huckabee's campaign already has been crowing about the endorsement. Read more

— Sam Eifling

DATELINE 01.10.08 Mitt Romney: Lake Protector | e-mail us

alt="Bill Richardson - Democrat"
hspace="10" vspace="10">
Mitt Romney's campaign today issued a radio ad that, among the usual Republican talking points about families and taxes, gave some lip service to what sounded like him sticking up for the Great Lakes. In the ad, Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra and his wife, Diane, faux-banter about Romney. One of her lines: "And Mitt Romney will look out for Michigan, creating jobs and protecting our lakes." You can listen to the ad here.

Of course, that's so vague you could imagine Romney lobbying to get the other four lakes' names changed to Lake Michigan. If you don't believe that the mitten state swoons over its lakes, check out its standard license plates. With that design, you'd think the state was just a series of giant puddles with a city and a forest by the screwholes.

— Sam Eifling

DATELINE: 01.10.08 Richardson Goes the Way of the Mammoth | e-mail us

alt="Bill Richardson - Democrat"
hspace="10" vspace="10">
The revelations from the New Hampshire primary Tuesday has been multifold — a living, breathing candidate where John McCain's grave had been dug, and the return of Hillary Clinton after Barack Obama's perceived bounce from winning Iowa fizzled. For the outdoors crowd, though, there may be no more significant development than Democrat Bill Richardson announcing that he's dropping out of the race.

MSNBC is reporting that Richardson's leaving in haste because he's lagging badly in Nevada, where the New Mexico governor has campaigned hard: "Said one adviser, 'It wouldn't do us any good to get our ass kicked in Nevada.'" (Not that Richardson, who has a concealed weapons permit, is likely to get physically kicked around anywhere.)

With his departure, the possibility of a recreational sportsman as Democratic nominee grows fainter. Unlike Clinton and Obama, Richardson made conservation issues a focus of his stump speeches, and has made no secret over the past few years that he's a capable hand at capping turkey, elk and oryx. And while others have made the case for investing in alternative energy sources, I don't know of other candidates who have said explicitly that protecting wildlife is a good reason not to burn oil and coal.

Still clinging to hopes of the White House is John Edwards — whom an NRA lobbyist in October called "on the wrong side at every opportunity" — who, while making few friends among Second Amendment enthusiasts, has promoted issues of water quality and land protection specifically as outdoors issues. (Check out planks such as "Preserve Access to Clean, Healthy Water for Fishing" on the candidate's web site.) The crucible for the North Carolinian no doubt will come Jan. 26, when South Carolina holds its Democratic primary.

— Sam Eifling

DATELINE: 01.04.08 Riding shotgun on caucus night | e-mail us

WAUKEE, Iowa — Steve Roth lowered his voice a bit as he revealed to me his first choices before the caucuses last night: John McCain, and Mike Huckabee. The issue for Roth — a 28-year-old fly fisherman and duck hunter from here in central Iowa — came down to gun issues.

alt="Mitt Romney - Republican, Massachusetts"
src="http://a.espncdn.com/winnercomm/outdoors/general/hookandballot/button_romney.jpg">"People from all over, that's why they're going to vote," Roth said. He works on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and recalled in 2004 when the gun owners on the rig — and there were many — wore decals on their hard hats in opposition to a Kerry-Edwards regime. The stickers depicted shotgun shells and carried the phrase, "Support Your Sport."

Roth was speaking quietly in part because Mitt Romney was scheduled to visit the high school in a few moments (see my photo) and the halls were lousy with Romney supporters. When the former Massachusetts governor rolled in a little later, it was like a wave crashing into the cafeteria. Iowans get huge doses of politicians each election cycle, and they're almost comically accustomed to the attention. Still, I heard an awed man say to a friend: "That guy might become the most powerful man in the world."

Maybe, but for a night, at least, he wasn't even the most popular Republican in the state. Huckabee outpaced Romney 34 percent to 25 percent, and while Romney afterwards boasted of beating the three big-name candidates (John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, who between them managed only 30 percent) he surely expected better after outspending Huckabee 6 to 1 on television ads in the run-up to the caucuses.

This morning, the chatter is all about the tide of evangelical voters pushing for Huckabee and the possibility that Huckabee's economic populism and middle America pedigree played better to Iowans. I've noticed only Slate's John Dickerson mention the possible effect of gun-owners: ". . .Huckabee's volunteers beat Romney's professionals by putting together a network of church activists, home-school advocates, and Second Amendment defenders."

If that's true, then Huckabee's campaign can further claim parallels with the American Revolution, a theme I saw him use in a stump speech on caucus eve. He reminded voters that, against odds, a small, ragtag band of Americans fended off the British. He likewise may owe his victory in part to farmers (and other blue-collar workers) bearing arms.

— Sam Eifling

DATELINE: 01.03.08 — Point-blank with Ron Paul | e-mail us

DES MOINES, Iowa — As I parked in the lot at Palmer's Deli, near downtown Des Moines, I saw a woman pull up alongside an ABC journalist who was carrying a video camera and ask, "Is there someone famous inside?"

The answer was yes . . . but not all that famous. Just kind of Ron Paul famous. I walked in with the ABC guy and we surveyed the large restaurant, at its lunch hour peak. No sign of Ron Paul, the Republican longshot who rode grassroots support to almost $20 million in campaign donations in the final quarter of 2006. As we began to wonder whether he was in the can, we spotted him eating lunch in the corner with staffers.

By the time he was ready to answer questions, more of a crowd had gathered: TV crews, print reporters and a gaggle of teenagers, some of whom were wearing little Obama stickers and one of whom wore full-sized Ron Paul bumper stickers across the front of his sweater.

Paul's popularity stems from his contrarian positions on just about everything. He's anti-tax, anti-war, anti-abortion (he states that as a doctor he has delivered something like 4,000 babies), anti-Patriot Act. And he sees nothing in the Constitution about restricting gun ownership.

"We've done great with the Second Amendment people," he told me. "I've been on firm ground with them a long, long time. It's pretty clear what the Second Amendment says. It means that government shouldn't interfere with our right.

"I do not see that as a collective right," he continued. "I do not believe in collective rights. I believe that rights are only individual. The fact that the Supreme Court is debating whether the Second Amendment applies to individual rights or collective rights is foolish. The right to own a gun is an individual right, not the right of a group of people, like a militia."

The "Gun Owners for Ron Paul" portion of his web site makes clear that he believes "the Second Amendment is not about duck hunting," but rather, about "having the ability to restrain tyrannical governments." That you get to kill ducks in the meantime is just a Constitutionally aided bonus.

Someone else asked Paul how long he'd stay in the race if he didn't have a great showing tonight. He replied that he has the cash reserves to fund the campaign until February 5, at least. If he's still hanging after that, he can expect many more lunchtime interruptions.

— Sam Eifling

DATELINE: 01.03.08 — Obamalac on the attack | e-mail us

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The reports of John Edwards deteriorating into a walking campaign zombie (he's been campaigning even overnight this week) are exaggerated, but not by much. This morning he blew through The Mill, where I saw Bill Richardson the previous night, with such speed that the place barely had time to feel like a cattle pen. "Don't be late!" he told the crowd, then hustled back onto his campaign bus with the usual coterie of black-coated handlers and writers trailing him.

It was short and sweet for this saturated state. On the way out of town I saw canvassers being turned away at someone's doorstep; a woman standing in the snow on the side of a major street waving a Mitt Romney sign; and yard signs for Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. Along Interstate 80, heading toward Des Moines, someone had posted a large, spray-paint-on-wood Ron Paul sign.

And a little further down the road, at a rest stop, sat the Obamalac, a '63 Caddy convertible with '08 OBAMA in huge letters on the panels of its doors and trunk. It was suffering some mechanical issues. I asked the owner, Rich Miller, what was wrong, and he went down a litany of problems as he tried to read the dipstick. I snapped his photo, and asked him what I had asked Obama precinct captain Dale Hedgecoth the night before: what pro-Obama argument could he offer a hunter who votes his sport?

He admitted he didn't have much grist for the outdoors crowd, adding that his own difference of opinion on a single issue — abortion — hadn't deterred his support of Obama.

"I'm not a hunter," he said, "but I believe everyone has a right to hunt, and the right to carry a gun. To each his own."

I had presumed he might be a sportsman because of the hunter orange knit cap he wore against the cold. "No," he explained. "It's a safety thing. I break down a lot."

Then, just as I was saying farewell, he asked: "Can you give me a jump?"

— Sam Eifling

DATELINE: 01.03.08 — Obama, Biden and Richardson bring out the big guns | e-mail us
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Three rallies on Wednesday, the eve of the Iowa caucuses, demonstrated to me how tough it can be for an out-of-state presidential candidate to address issues of the outdoors. For one, matters of hunting and fishing are, at heart, deeply local issues, and concrete — and at this stage in a presidential campaign, with a half-dozen serious candidates in each party, voters are being asked implicitly to make an emotional decision as much as a rational one.

Secondly, the Democrats in Iowa, as the challenging party, have to call for some sort of "change" — and on a national level, a hundred years after Teddy Roosevelt and more than 200 years after James Madison wrote the Second Amendment, the sporting life is firmly entrenched.

(Third, and this may be more of a guess than a direct observation: There's probably a sizeable proportion of hunters who prefer the federal government leave matters of water and land management to states altogether. (And some would throw into that category all other matters that don't pertain to war and maintaining a snappy border patrol.)

But that doesn't mean candidates aren't touching Iowa outdoorsmen. At Barack Obama's raucous afternoon rally, the skinny kid with the funny name reiterated his sweeping themes of change and hope while still getting in the occasional policy one-liner ("You pay my salary," he said. "I don't know why my health care should be better than yours.").

His one dalliance with sportsmen's issues was his mention of an energy policy that would rely on "wind, solar and biodiesel" in place of fossil fuels. Afterwards, when I chat with Dale Hedgecoth, a Cedar Rapids precinct captain for Obama and a pheasant hunter for 20 years, he offers just that line of policy as a reason why hunters should consider Obama.

Pheasants, he said, nest largely in ditches alongside roadways. "From a pheasant's view," he said, "you're just seeing a tailpipe go by." Ethanol's exhaust is just water, far better for birds to breathe than petrol particulates.

A couple of hours later, Joe Biden was citing his knowledge of Pakistan and his foreign policy credentials as his best case for a presidential nod. He ripped rival Democrat Bill Richardson for suggesting that the way to handle Pakistan would be to send Dick Cheney to Islamabad. Someone in the audience then plucked the low-hanging fruit: "Only with a shotgun!" This sent the room into brief hysterics.

I closed the night at Richardson's rally down the road in Iowa City, where families and University of Iowa students packed in the back of a restaurant to hear the exhausted candidate give his eighth stump speech of the day. People were packed in so tightly, at least one young supporter was moved to mutter, "Well this is a fire hazard …"

They roared for his promises to use less foreign oil and close Guantanamo Bay. Then Richardson, an avid hunter and noted Second Amendment champion, veered into matters of conservation, and seemed to lose the crowd for a beat.

"We will say that reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and cleaning up the planet, and protecting ecosystems is a moral imperative." (Big clapping.)

"And that America's protection of the environment means also our national parks, our wilderness areas, our wild and scenic rivers." (One guy coughing, no clapping.)

"You know, I have another position on the Endangered Species Act: Leave it the way it is! Don't touch it!" (Mild clapping.)

He closed the speech by reiterating his opposition to the war in Iraq and encouraging people to get out and caucus. "I understand tomorrow's going to be a pretty day," he said, then added, as only an outdoorsman could: "It was a beautiful day today."

This drew some snickers, then some all-out guffaws. Sure it had been a clear day — but it had also had stayed below 10 degrees, with wind, pretty much all over the state.

"No, it was," he said. "I don't know where I was, but it was beautiful."

— Sam Eifling

DATELINE: 01.02.08 — We've
got a Huckabee Sighting | e-mail us
“You outdoors guys always look for the earliest
events” is what Hawkeye pol Bob VanderPlaats told me just
before 8 a.m., and I wanted to throw my head back and cackle. We and a
handful of media and Honest to God Iowans had braved cold that was, in
the words of one broadcaster I heard talking to a camera,
“incomprehensible” — that is, minus-4
at one point during my two-hour drive this morning, before wind chill,
which was plain sinister.

alt="Mike Huckabee - Republican Candidate, Arkansas"
I’m in Iowa to hit as many of these events as possible in
two days, and this meet-and-greet with Mike Huckabee at the Webster
County Fairgrounds was first on the list. I had hoped the surprise
Republican frontrunner and bird shooter extraordinaire would address
the constituency that ESPNOutdoors.com covers — which Bob
VanderPlaats, Huckabee’s state chair, figures is people who
love waking up to freezing cold darkness.

Sure enough, when Huckabee swept into the low-slung fairgrounds hall,
he cracked friendly for a couple of minutes —
“Every time I get outside, I’m reminded that my
Southern blood isn’t ready for temperatures this
cold” — then set about establishing his
conservative credentials.

First, he affirmed his support for “the sanctity of human
life.” After unborn babies came guns, and what seemed like a
subtle dig on Mitt Romney.

“People are looking for some consistency when it comes to
support of the Second Amendment,” Huckabee told the audience.
“They’re not going to find that I once supported
some gun control measure and now I’ve changed my mind because
the polls say I should or the playbook says I should. I do it because
it’s a conviction. I believe that that is a Constitutional
right. It’s not about hunting; it’s about freedom,
and it’s about protecting ourselves, our families and our

“If we lose the Second, we lose the first as well,”
he continued. Someone in the crowd affirmed,

He told the crowd not to be caught tomorrow “sitting around
watching that Orange Bowl,” unless of course
they’re not planning to caucus for him. He urged them to be
on the lookout for neighbors who weren’t going to caucus for
him, and to “put all your snow in their driveway.”
Then he kissed hands, shook babies and hustled back onto the bus and
the freezing, freezing road, on his way to one more campaign stop
before he flies out to sit on Jay Leno’s couch this afternoon.

Does his gun-friendly message resonate with voters here? It’s
safe to say so, but a couple of gentlemen I spoke with were more
impressed with how positive a dude Huckabee seems than any policy

“He’s pro-hunting,” a former art teacher
and ex-pheasant hunter named Dean Wallestad, of Calhoun County, said as
the candidate exited. “But we’ve got to have
reasonable gun laws. There has to be a reason why a lot of cities are
going with protections against assault rifles. I personally think
assault rifles are best left up to the military.”

A corn grower named Francis Owens, from nearby Webster City, offered
this analysis of Huckabee’s firearms stance:
“He’s a sportsman. I think for one thing he
understands the base there, but he also enjoys the sport. And I think
he understands the underlying principle there. If our country
didn’t have the weapons back when we split from England,
we’d still be under the crown, probably, just like

Owens said he used to hunt small game — squirrels,
rabbits — with his brother, Bob, who was four years
Francis’ elder, but hasn’t been able to bring
himself to hunt since Bob died of leukemia at age 27. Francis is now 54
years old

DATELINE: 01.01.08 — It's very, very cold here | e-mail us

You know John Edwards shelled out $400 a pop for a pair of housecall
haircuts. But do you know his position on land access for fishing and
hunting? Likewise, you’ve mulled Mitt Romney’s
Mormonism — but what did Second Amendment rights look
while he was governor of Massachusetts?

quality. Land quantity. Gun restrictions. Fishing protections.
Hunters’ rights in national parks. Birds’ rights in
national refuges. Politics in 2008 may not start with outdoors issues,
but there’s always a chance it will end with them. Recall how
all other news took a weeklong break in 2006 after Dick Cheney peppered
a hunting buddy with pellets meant for a quail.

alt="Dick Cheney, courtesy: Texas Monthly"
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That’s why ESPNOutdoors.com is rolling out this here feature
Hook & Ballot. It’s going to get inside the issues
that drive the hook-and-bullet crowd to the polls. Maybe
you’ll use this page to help you vote. Maybe you
don’t really care about voting, but still want a reason to
dislike whoever’s going to be elected. Maybe you dig politics
the same way you dig the outdoors — as sport.

This’ll be the sporting fiber in your news diet. And you
could probably use it.
Southwick Associates, the Florida-based company that makes hay by
surveying hunters and anglers, released survey results last month that
suggest sportsmen don't much care for how this crop of candidates has
addressed the outdoors.
Asked, “Do you think the current slate of presidential
candidates have adequately indicated their opinions about hunting
and/or fishing?” only 3 percent of anglers and 7 percent of
hunters said they had “a good enough understanding”
of the candidates’ opinions. Those numbers were similar to
numbers of people who picked “It is way too early to be
talking about the presidential race” and “I do not
care about any of the candidates because they do not have my interest
in mind.”

Meanwhile, 55 percent of anglers and 58 percent of hunters agreed that
“only a few” or “none” of the
candidates have expressed an opinion on their sports.

Reached by phone at his office, Rob Southwick said it’s too
early in the election cycle to extrapolate much from those data. But to
us, it suggests that the presidential candidates have yet to reach a
great number of sportsmen and —women, and, by extension,
great number of voters, as there are 40 million hunters and anglers of
voting age in this country, and 80 percent of them consider themselves
likely voters. Eighty percent of those say they “vote their
sport,” according to a report by the Congressional
Sportsmen’s Foundation.

About 121 million votes were cast in the 2004 presidential
Back-of-the-matchbook math says 25 million people who will vote in the
2008 election are waiting for a candidate to make an impression on
outdoors issues.

The outdoors bloc, then, is more than a fifth of the
— and potentially more. We expect a few of them have
access. So watch this space — that goes for voters and
candidates — and if you have something to add, join in
the Conversation feature. Something you want to tell us directly? Drop
us a line at >hookandballot@gmail.com.

Anyway, Southwick’s right; it is early yet, so he did offer
another set of survey results to help tide us over. His sites
anglersurvey.com and huntersurvey.com last year asked who respondents
would most like to hunt or fish with: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton,
Jennifer Aniston, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Tiger Woods.

Bush was the clear winner for both hunters (50 percent) and anglers (28
percent). Taking second place in both surveys: Aniston. We assume the
thinking there was, she may not be as versed on water policy, but she
would at least look better than Bill climbing over a fence.

— Sam Eifling

DATELINE: 01.01.08 —
Hittin' the Road | e-mail us
The weather report in Des Moines, Iowa, on this, New Year’s
Day, 2008, looks perfect for driving into: high around 10 degrees with
winds that make it feel 20 degrees colder. If that keeps up, the
weather could definitely affect turnout at the caucuses on Jan. 3,
which for all serious purposes is the Opening Day for presidential
politics in 2008.

alt="Bill Richardson - Democrat"
hspace="10" vspace="10">

Google can tell me that it’s a seven-hour drive to
Iowa’s capitol but it cannot explain what Dubuque deer
hunters make of Democratic candidate Bill Richardson, whom the
endorsed in his (successful) 2006 run for governor of New Mexico.

Nor does it know whether Grinnell gun enthusiasts have taken a shining
to Constitution literalist Ron Paul, the Libertarian-leaning Republican
gadfly who writes on his web site that the founding fathers’
“ratified the Second Amendment knowing that this right is the
guardian of every other right.”

Nor whether Fort Dodge pheasant hunters are still swooning over
Republican Mike Huckabee, who seemed to have the morning media in his
palm when he blasted a bird eight days before the caucuses.
“These three birds all said they would not vote for me on
caucus night,” he cracked. “You see what happened
to ‘em.” Gunpoint democracy jokes are always risky,
as we were reminded the next day, when Pakistani politician Benazir
Bhutto was assassinated just days from her bid to become prime minister

So it’s off to Iowa to find out. Check back later to see how
the outdoors will affect caucus night, and whether Huckabee follows
through with his veiled threats to whack the opposition in a literal

— Sam Eifling