Thursday, May 15, 2008

Barack Obama Should Think About Travis Childers

The big political news this week isn't that Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in one of the smallest, most isolated, least educated states in the union. No, the big news is that Democrat Travis Childers won a special congressional election in a conservative Mississippi district. And despite some media reports to the contrary, Childers is not a conservative (not in the George W. Bush mold, at least). He supports withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and cutting taxes for middle-income Americans before cutting them for higher-income people. Childers is, however, conservative on the issues of gays, guns and abortion - and it appears that these positions allowed him to avoid the "liberal" label his opponent tried to pin on him.

There's a lesson here for Obama. There is a lot of disagreement among conservatives on a wide spectrum of issues, including tax policy, the war and the environment. There is less disagreement among conservatives, however, about gays, guns and abortion. Obama could hardly change his strong positions on gay rights and abortion rights (nor would he, I'm sure). But he has never been a very fervent in his support of gun control.

Obama's web site says very little about guns, but it does have this passage (hardly gun-banning stuff): "Obama recognizes that we must forge a broad coalition if we are to address the great conservation challenges we face. America’s hunters and anglers are a key constituency that must take an active role and have a powerful voice in this coalition."

Once Obama has the Democratic nomination sewed up, he should tack to the center on guns. This has always been an issue that the pro-gun side cares about much more fervently than does the anti-gun side. He could emphasize that he won't try to stop states that want to allow concealed handguns. He could express his qualified support when the U.S. Supreme Court inevitably overturns D.C.'s gun ban (it's not like the president could do much to overturn this decision, anyway). And, of course, there are plenty of great pro-gun Democrats who would make excellent vice presidential candidates (including Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who I left off my original list).

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