Politics & Policy

High Caliber Advocacy

How the NRA won the fight over gun rights.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the February 14, 2005, issue of National Review.

“When I was growing up in Tennessee, we had a saying for something that was so outrageous nobody could believe it: ‘That dog don’t hunt,’” says Chris Cox, the chief lobbyist of the National Rifle Association. The old phrase came back to him a couple of years ago, as Cox was plotting the NRA’s strategy for 2004. “I knew the Democrats were going to go after the pro-gun vote, and I knew their efforts would be full of bald-faced lies. We had to figure out a way to expose them.”

So Cox visualized a dog that didn’t hunt. He came up with the concept of a French poodle with a pink ribbon in its exquisitely groomed fur, wearing a sweater bearing the name of the Democratic presidential candidate. Beneath this picture would be Cox’s boyhood aphorism. It was bound to be a clever ad, but then Democratic primary voters did something to turn it into a perfect one: They nominated John Kerry, the senator with puffed-up hair and “French” looks.

In doing so, they helped the NRA launch one of the most effective and memorable images from the 2004 election. For a few weeks last fall, the Kerry poodle was America’s most famous canine–a political version of the Taco Bell Chihuahua. It became the centerpiece image in a “No quiero John Kerry” campaign that included more than 6 million postcards and letters, nearly as many fliers and bumper stickers, and an expensive media campaign made up of 28,000 television commercials, 20,000 radio spots, 1,700 newspaper ads, and more than 500 billboard messages. “Nothing kills Democratic candidates’ prospects more than guns,” concluded New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. “If it weren’t for guns, President-elect Kerry might now be conferring with incoming Senate Majority Leader Daschle.”..

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John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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