In some ways, each state in the early process of the Presidential nominations captures something about the GOP electorate. I have noted that Iowa tends to emphasize religious conservatives. In New Hampshire, the "Live Free or Die" state, it is much more libertarian focusing on issues like guns and, to some extent, taxes. But the tax guys are focused on local elections, so the only real force in New Hampshire focused on the national ballot is the gun guys.
Nearly every Republican in New Hampshire owns a gun. Everyone hunts. In some meaningful sense, New Hampshire Republican primary voters protect the rights of gun owners in the Republican coalition.
Why does this matter? Well, I was reminded of this when I saw a letter to the editor in the Gilford Steamer by Steve Hodges, a former Sheriff and New Hampshire Fish and Game Commissioner. He trashes Rudy Giuliani and, to a lesser extent, Mitt Romney and endorses John McCain on the gun issue:
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani readily admits he favors strong regulations on gun ownership, but he isn’t as quick to disclose the full story of his attempts to undermine the Second Amendment. Giuliani pushed for a national system of gun registration and licensing and was expressly supportive of the licensing for both handgun and rifle owners. In the past he has expressed support for the quadrupling of ammunition taxes and as mayor of New York City he sued gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers for millions in damages.
Giuliani was also behind a national law that would have imposed uniform tests on guns owners. In the past he urged measures that would require citizens to pass written tests, as well as physical tests, in order to own a gun. Even further, his plan would have forced every sportsman and gun collector to "demonstrate good moral character and a reason to have the gun."
While it is clear that Rudy Giuliani is not pro-gun owners, it is unclear where former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney honestly stands on the Second Amendment.
Now the point here is not to trash Rudy. Rudy’s candidacy is about transcending these issues in some meaningful sense and focusing on 9-11 and his governance of New York City. His website has a list of statements by New Hampshire activists and electeds, and they are things like:
Former State Representative Paul Mirski: "I’d be classified as a social conservative, pro-gun, anti-abortion, all of that, but Giuliani gave a great speech … I think the Republicans, including me, could probably follow him and support him for the presidency." (Philip Klein, "The Candidate," The American Spectator Online, 1/29/07)
Whether this continues when his stances on issues comes out is unclear. A recent Michigan poll suggested that Newt and Mitt are getting support from people that really like them but few others, while Rudy and McCain are getting support from people who understand that they are not perfect. There is plenty of time to change these dynamics, but only time will tell.