Everyone knows Sen. Harry Reid is tough on political foes, but he's even tougher on jack rabbits.
Wielding an antique .22- caliber rifle Tuesday, Reid, D-Nev., told an audience of Nevada gun enthusiasts how he once used his final bullet to bring down a skinny hare for his grandmother to make into rabbit stew.
"In my childhood mind that was the best thing I had ever eaten, and it probably was," Reid said at a dedication party for the Clark County Shooting Park. In reality, "it was an old, beat-up jack rabbit," he said.
Although the event was billed as a community celebration, the political overtones were clear.
Reid, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons and Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Harry Reid progeny Rory Reid all took turns declaring their support for gun rights in Nevada, a wide-open Western state where Democrats and Republicans love shooting.
It was the elder Reid who came loaded with the biggest political weapon, a flattering speech from Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association, a gun rights organization with 3.5 million members and a $120 million annual budget.
"He is a true champion of the Second Amendment," LaPierre said of Reid.
Recent polling suggests Reid can use all the help he can get.
Although Reid's job as Senate majority leader makes him the highest-ranking politician in state history, his approval rating with Nevadans is just 37 percent, according to a statewide poll last week by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
His opponents also are saying Reid's status among the most powerful politicians in the country has undermined his relationship with everyday Nevadans. They say Reid is more interested in pleasing President Barack Obama and liberal Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., than doing what's best for the state.
In the Mason-Dixon poll, voters also said they preferred Republican Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian of Las Vegas to Reid, 49 to 38 percent.
Tarkanian consultant Jamie Fisfis says Tarkanian is as pro-gun as Reid and doesn't have the political baggage of unpopular government spending and an expensive health care reform proposal weighing him down.
"I don't want to minimize the fact that most of the people who are strong Second Amendment supporters object to just about everything else (Reid) does," Fisfis said. "It is not going to be enough."
Reid says that he doesn't care about polls and that Mason-Dixon's sampling of 400 registered Nevada voters was inadequate.
But by showing up at the gun range, introducing LaPierre and boasting of an emotional connection to firearms, Reid might have bolstered his appeal with an everyman and everywoman demographic.
"These weapons become our friends. This weapon is my friend," Reid said of his 75-year-old rifle.
Reid was just one of several politicians who used the dedication of the park as a platform to support gun rights.
Ensign, Gibbons and Berkley talked about how they helped park supporters assemble the 2,900 acres needed for the $61 million park and a surrounding buffer zone. The first phase of the 148-acre public shooting facility, on Decatur Boulevard about five miles north of the northern Las Vegas Beltway, is expected to open to the general public in the next few months.
Berkley spoke about how, in 2003, she and Gibbons, then a congressman, co-sponsored a bill that helped in the creation of the park.
Berkley didn't claim to be an avid shooter but said her constituents wanted the park built.
"If it is good enough for my constituents, by gosh, it is certainly good enough for me," she said.
Ensign told a gun story of his own, albeit a much darker one than Reid's.
He talked about a gun accident that occurred while he was living with his grandparents after the divorce of his parents. According to Ensign, his then 12-year-old uncle and a friend "got to messing around with their guns."
"My uncle's best friend ended up pointing the gun at him and shot him in the chest and killed him," Ensign said.
After the incident, Ensign said he, "grew up a little bit afraid of guns," adding, "that is one of the reasons shooting parks like this are so important is to educate people on gun safety."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.