Beckley, WV (CNSNews.com) - West Virginia carries only five electoral votes, which generally go to the Democratic presidential candidate. However, for the first time in many years, Mountain State voters are getting their share of attention in the white-hot light of the presidential race.
West Virginia voters appear most interested in which candidate will ensure "the right of the people to keep and bear arms..." and will help protect the mining and steel industries.
Protection of the Second Amendment is an issue that strikes close to home with the Mountain State electorate. Over 350,000 West Virginians hold hunting licenses and it is estimated that more than half of the state's residents are gun owners. Those statistics placed NRA President Charlton Heston among friends during a Halloween visit to Beckley, West Virginia.
"The whole election will turn on the swing states," Heston told reporters who amassed at the Raleigh County Armory for the event. Heston had 2,500 enthusiastic supporters on hand when he arrived to wild cheers and applause.
He minced no words as he pointed to the importance of the November 7th decision. "If Al Gore is elected, he will have the power to hammer your gun rights into oblivion," said Heston to a chorus of boos. "..and since the Supreme Court is the single, final, sole interpreter of the U.S. Constitution, there is nothing you, or I, or Congress or anyone else could ever do to stop them then."
Heston also issued a "call to arms" for those in attendance. "When you're pulling the level to vote freedom first, you're doing no less than our forefathers pulling the trigger against the tyrants at Lexington and Concord."
Heston's message of the need to protect Second Amendment rights resonated with many like Alan Talbot, who traveled the three plus hours from Buckhannon, West Virginia to Beckley to hear the NRA president.
"This country's down the tubes if we put Gore in there. He's going to disarm us. Every country that was ever disarmed in the history of the world has fallen to a dictator. Why should this be an exception to that?," Talbot asked.
Former Miss West Virginia, Lucy Ours, stood with Heston and said a Gore presidency would be poisonous to America's firearms freedom.
"I've taken a buck here in West Virginia every year since I was seven years old. My brother has taken one every year since he was four. It's a family tradition, and Mr. Gore, I don't like your position on the Second Amendment. I can't support you and I don't want to lose my Second Amendment rights," Ours said.
Those statements are echoed by thousands of West Virginians as Gore continues to trail George W. Bush in a state that most analysts would have expected Gore to win hands down.
While Gore struggles with the gun issue in West Virginia, he is having a harder time winning over rank and file coal miners and steel workers. The United Mine Workers and United Steel Workers have endorsed the Gore/Lieberman ticket, but many think the union coal miners and steel workers may break ranks on Election Day.
During a recent rally in Charleston, Gore promised to work for clean coal technology and promised to fight for the health benefits of retired miners. UMWA President Cecil Roberts stood with Gore, repeating those promises and bashing every Republican from Bush to Richard Nixon.
It remains to be seen if the labor endorsements will work. Miners in the state fear Gore's environmental agenda, which they say has shown disdain for the coal industry in recent years. Bush is leading in West Virginia largely on the strength of coal miners fearing they'll be regulated out of work, steelworkers fearing their jobs will be sold out to foreign companies, and gun owners who fear they'll be disarmed.