Two years after the NRA endorsed GOP Rep. Bill Sali and gave his challenger, Democrat Walt Minnick, a "D+," the powerful gun-rights group says now-Rep. Minnick has cleaned up his act and jumped two full grades.
"Very simply, he has been a solid vote on gun issues and he's been supportive of 2nd Amendment issues since he's been elected," said Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA's director of public affairs.
The GOP nominee, state Rep. Raul Labrador, earned an "A," but the NRA is staying neutral in the race and not making an endorsement, Arulanandam said.
Arulanandam, a Boise State alum and a former executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, wouldn't be specific about why Minnick didn't also get an "A," nor would he say what earned him the "D+" in 2008.
Instead, he said of Minnick, "Based on a complete review of his entire record, we believe the 'B+' gives an accurate picture as to where Congressman Minnick stands on gun rights. He has voted with Idaho gun owners and hunters during his tenure in Congress."
Labrador spokesman Phil Hardy offered this response:
"The grades from the Rifle Association reflect the overall value of a candidate and we are very proud Raul has earned the 'A' rating again. The 'A' rating only goes to the greatest supporters of the defenders of 2nd Amendment rights—it is earned through actions.
"Raul has always been a staunch supporter of Idaho’s citizens Second Amendment rights; this is why he’s always had an 'A' rating. He always will have an 'A' rating and the people of Idaho who cherish these rights, which is just about all of them, know Raul’s always been in their corner. He always will be too. His voting record speaks for itself.
"You don’t get an 'A' rating from the Rifle Association by mentioning the number of guns you own in campaign literature."
Said Minnick's campaign manager, John Foster, "We were never expecting the endorsement."
Asked why Minnick got the "D+" in 2008, Foster said Minnick's 1996 challenge to then-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, a longtime member of the NRA board of directors, played a role.
"It's fair to say the '08 race contained a lot of residual from the '96 race, but Walt wanted very much to move past that. We're just pleased with the great relationship Walt now has with the NRA."
In the other Idaho federal races, incumbent GOP Sen. Mike Crapo got an "A+" and 2nd District GOP Rep. Mike Simpson got an "A."
Crapo's Democratic opponent, Tom Sullivan, received an "AQ," for "A qualified," Arulanandam said. The mark is qualified because Sullivan has no voting record and his rating is based only on his answers to the group's questionnaire.
Simpson's Democratic opponent, Mike Crawford, did not reply to the questionnaire, Arulanandam said.
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