THB, Banditos, Wayward and more confirmed for Cosmic Cocktail!

Candidates' shot at hunting mostly a miss

The Baltimore Sun

So my boss, a nice enough fellow, wanders up to my cubbyhole the other day with an idea for a column: Lay out the positions of Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama on outdoors issues.

As that great political observer John McEnroe might reply, "You cannot be serious."

For if there's one thing I have learned about our relationship, dear readers, is that elections come with their own scorched-earth policy. No one survives.

It's bad enough that every four years or so, some politician goes to a sporting goods store and buys himself (yes, it is almost always a guy) a brand new suit of camo and trots into a field or steps into the woods and looks like a dork. Photographers document the moment, which seemed like a good idea at the time but rarely ends up that way.

Although a very good shot, Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, would have been better off being photographed windsurfing while eating a Philly cheese steak smothered in Swiss cheese and Grey Poupon instead of looking uncomfortable with dead geese and pheasants.

The only thing crazier is Vice President Dick Cheney poking fun at Kerry's outing as an "October disguise." Less than two years later, the tables turn when old "Duck and Cover" Cheney bags himself a campaign contributor.

Then there's Mitt Romney sporting a newly minted "lifetime" NRA membership and bragging: "I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then." You can't make that stuff up.

Of course, Mike Dukakis cut to the chase, dispensing with small-arms fire in favor of a tank. Talk about packing heat.

Over the past few seasons, courting the outdoors vote has ramped up to the point where then-Gov. Mike Huckabee, an Arkansas Republican, suggested that he and his female Democratic opponent, Jimmie Lou Fisher, "both dress in camo, both go to the woods and on the water and have it out, and let's just see who is the champion of the sportsmen."

There are exceptions in the political world, however. Big-game hunter Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind. Herbert Hoover was a lifelong fisherman who said: "Presidents have only two moments of personal seclusion. One is prayer; the other is fishing - and they cannot pray all the time!"

I've been to the Cape Cod pond where Grover Cleveland used to fly fish. The Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta once displayed his fly-tying bench as part of an exhibit called, "The Tie That Binds." Just this year, the first President Bush, 84, caught and released a 135-pound tarpon in the Florida Keys.

But when it doesn't work, it really doesn't work.

I watched in horror at the Londonderry Fish and Gun Club in 1980 as Warren Rudman, a Korean War vet running for the Senate from New Hampshire, proclaimed, "I love weapons," just before he opened up a crater in the middle of his forehead when a rifle scope kicked back while shooting with the boys.

Here in Maryland, some of us have to go back only six years to the gubernatorial campaign between Robert Ehrlich and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to remember a wonderful case of political theater of the absurd. The Cliffs Notes version:

The Maryland Sportsmen's Association sends a questionnaire to each candidate. Townsend, the Democrat, the gal, gets a better grade than Ehrlich, the Republican, the guy.

Many sportsmen cry fowl, er, foul. The Ehrlich campaign dismisses its opponent's answers as "fraudulent."

Then pandemonium breaks out when two prominent members of recreational fishing organizations share the stage with Townsend during a Cecil County speech. They say they are endorsing her as individuals, but they're wearing their official organization jackets.

The sportsmen call for scalps. The two men try to backpedal and blame the messenger - guess who? One even claims in an interview that he drove from his Calvert County home to Cecil County in the rain on a Monday morning after attending a nighttime Washington Redskins game and stood directly behind her "so I could hear what this woman had to say."


That brings us back to the present and an election that is a calendar page flip away.

This time seems different. With two wars, a national debt the size of Pluto and people hiding their savings in coffee cans and watching their 401(k) become a 201(k), asking about outdoors issues seems kind of back burner.

Besides, the magazines Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and Backpacker have done extensive Q-and-A's with Obama and McCain, which you can read on their Web sites.

Predictably, reader outbursts cover the gamut, from Obama being a city-dwelling, gun-stealing, bullet-confiscating commie to McCain being a big-oil-shilling, drive-your-ATV-over-fragile-lands-supporting, McMansion-loving troglodyte. And those are the printable comments.

And I want to step on those red-hot coals again? Sorry, boss, I'd rather have a root canal.

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