COLUMBUS — The National Rifle Association publicly endorsed Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland on Monday in his race against Republican John Kasich.
Strickland accepted the endorsement at a Monday event at a sporting goods store in Proctorville, near the Ohio-West Virginia border, which the NRA publicized to its members over the weekend. The NRA's Ohio representative, John Hohenwarter, was scheduled to join Strickland before an audience of union steel workers later Monday in the Ohio River city of Martins Ferry.
The endorsement was contained in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that bestows the NRA's A-plus rating on Strickland and endorses him in the fall campaign.
Strickland also received the NRA's endorsement in the 2006 primary campaign. The group remained neutral that fall, when Strickland faced another gun rights supporter, Republican Ken Blackwell.
The announcement is the first of the 2010 general election campaign in any of the 37 governor's races nationwide. It could provide an important boost for Strickland, as a Democrat, from a group whose agenda more often meshes with Republican candidates. Ohio is among the nation's most closely divided states politically.
Polls have shown Strickland locked in a close race with Kasich, a conservative former congressman and Fox News commentator, in a campaign focussed on the economy and jobs.
The NRA letter commends Strickland as "an unwavering defender of our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms," noting his opposition to a 2004 ban on certain semiautomatic weapons while in Congress, his support of a "castle doctrine" bill lessening penalties for those who use guns to defend their homes, and his signature on an update of concealed carry laws.
Strickland recently signaled his willingness to support a bill that expanded access to guns in bars.
Kasich is also a gun rights supporter, said campaign spokesman Rob Nichols.
"John is a strong Second Amendment supporter, is a gun owner, and is proud to have received NRA support in the past," Nichols said.
As a congressman, Kasich sometimes diverged from the NRA position, however. He voted in favor of the Clinton assault weapons ban in 1994 and has supported bills containing restrictions on gun shows and handgun sales. He also voted against bills that diverted tax dollars to hunting development.
The NRA once gave him its F grade for his voting record on gun laws.
Signaling the issue's importance in the Ohio election, the Ohio Republican Party swiftly reacted to the endorsement by pointing out inconsistencies in Strickland's record on guns.