Joshua Lott/Reuters
U.S. Senator John McCain and former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin acknowledge the crowd during a campaign rally for McCain at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson, Arizona, Friday March 26.

Stumping for McCain, Sarah Palin dials back the gun rhetoric

Sarah Palin now says 'taking up arms' means voting. Weaponry and military metaphors are part of political discourse, but not all conservatives are happy with Palin's gun rhetoric.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin put the gun imagery on hold Friday as she campaigned for Sen. John McCain of Arizona at a rally in Tucson.

After taking heat earlier this week for calling on conservatives to “reload” and for identifying Democrats she’d like to help defeat in November by putting crosshairs over their districts on her Facebook page, Governor Palin called on the packed crowd to keep “fighting hard” for “common-sense conservative solutions.”

“We know violence isn’t the answer,” said Palin, who was Senator McCain’s running mate on the 2008 GOP presidential ticket. “When we take up our arms, we’re talking about our vote. We’re talking about being involved in a contested primary like this, and picking the right candidate, too, John McCain.”

The four-term senator, known as a maverick who doesn’t always toe the party line, faces a challenge from the right by former US Rep. J. D. Hayworth of Arizona.

Palin a buffer from the right

The appearance by Palin, a favorite among the antitax “tea party” movement, may help buffer McCain from right-wing opposition. Notably, the Arizona tea partiers have not as a group endorsed anybody in the Senate race. This contrasts with other races, such as Florida, where tea partiers are firmly behind former state House speaker Marco Rubio’s campaign against fellow Republican Gov. Charlie Crist for the US Senate.

In a momentous week marked by the passage and signing of landmark healthcare reform, and a raucous reaction – including epithets, death threats, and attacks on some members’ offices – emotions had cooled by Friday. In the afternoon, President Obama left for Camp David. Members of Congress, like McCain, have gone back to their home districts and states for rallies and town halls with constituents.

But the debate over the newly enacted healthcare reform law is far from over. And even if the rhetoric has cooled down for now, both sides are bracing for more wrangling to come.

Palin always garners attention. Her speech at the McCain rally was carried live on national cable. On Saturday, she is the headliner at a tea party “mega rally” in Searchlight, Nev., hometown of Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada.

In Tucson, Palin spoke of “this BS coming from the lamestream media, lately, about us inciting violence.”

“Don’t let the conversation be diverted,” she continued. “Don’t let a distraction like that get you off track. Keep fighting hard for these candidates, who are all about the common-sense conservative solutions that we need.”

Palin's gun rhetoric typical politics?

Most conservatives have defended Palin’s gun imagery, calling it typical political discourse, which often centers on talk of “battlegrounds” and “fighting.” On NBC’s Today Show on Thursday, McCain dismissed concerns about Palin’s use of the term “reload” on Twitter and the crosshairs on Facebook. “I’ve heard all of that language throughout my political career,” he said.

McCain, of course, has reason to go easy on Palin at the moment – not that that explains his reaction. And despite her well-publicized complaints about McCain’s advisers during the presidential campaign, she has maintained good relations with McCain himself. After all, her career skyrocketed after he plucked her from obscurity and put her on the ticket with him.

But not all conservatives are happy about Palin’s rhetoric. On “The View” TV show on Thursday, co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck called Palin’s use of crosshairs imagery “despicable.” Ms. Hasselbeck’s critique raised eyebrows in particular because she had stumped for Palin during the 2008 campaign.

Dan Schnur, an aide to McCain during his 2000 presidential campaign, is unimpressed. Mr. Schnur, now director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, called Palin’s rhetoric “part of a time-honored, bipartisan tradition of using borderline inappropriate weaponry and military metaphors when talking about politics.”

At the moment, he added, “everybody’s nerves are a little bit raw.”

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