From the ballot box to the bullet box

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Even for left-leaning liberal media pantywaists such as ourselves, one thing simply cannot be denied: Virginia is one gun-lovin’ commonwealth, no matter how you slice it. How do we know? Well, suffice it to say that, buried deep in our collective political subconscious, there are incidents of squirrel hunting, snapping turtle shooting and twelve-point-buck dressing that loom so large, we can’t ever fully disavow our love for small-caliber weaponry. And if a state’s effete political columnists don’t reflexively hate guns, then who the hell does?

Then again, Virginia ain’t exactly Texas (where you can find Kalashnikovs in the “Gifts for New Moms” section of your local Wal-Mart), so Old Dominion politicians have always had to walk a carefully calibrated (or is that caliber-rated?) line between embracing gun-owners’ rights and placating safety-obsessed voters—a juggling act made even more difficult by the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007.

And it’s against this complex backdrop that our two illustrious candidates for governor are currently strutting their stuff, trying desperately to appeal to die-hard Buck Hunter high-score holders without alienating their nervous, college-tuition-payin’ parents.

The unexpected twist is that, this time around, it’s the Democrat, Creigh Deeds, who boasts a long history of supporting gun rights, while his Republican opponent, Bob McDonnell, has traditionally been viewed with some suspicion by pro-gun groups (in fact, the NRA backed Deeds over McDonnell in the 2005 attorney general’s race).

This alternate-reality scenario has already led to some high political comedy, such as last week’s botched overture by Barack Obama to Virginia’s first (and thus far only) black governor Douglas Wilder. Seems that President Obama sent an envoy to Richmond to encourage Wilder to endorse Deeds, only to be rebuffed because Wilder is reportedly still miffed that Deeds opposed the guv’s landmark 1993 law barring Virginians from buying more than one handgun a month. Got that?

So how will it all shake out? Well, it’s hard to say—but it’s safe to say that McDonnell’s probably got the better end of the bargain. Republican voters might tend to be pro-gun, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll vote for Deeds—especially since McDonnell has now pointedly withdrawn his support for the one-gun-a-month law, and is running on the same ticket as AG nominee (and Second Amendment warrior) Ken Cuccinelli.

Paradoxically, even attempts to link the Republican ticket to the party’s fringe elements (like a recent anti-Cuccinelli ad that features footage of 99th District delegate nominee Catherine Crabill ranting that “we have a chance to fight this battle at the ballot box before we have to resort to the bullet box”) might backfire. After all, if the moderates think you’re one of them, and the crazies think you’re one banana-clip away from leading an armed insurrection, you’ve pretty much got the election wrapped up.

Of course, the Democrats do have one gun-lovin’ secret weapon: Jim Webb, the only Virginia politician we can imagine actually leading an armed insurrection. So who knows? With Senator Stone-Face manning the barricades, Deeds might just win this thing after all.

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