Tester: Obama a Regular Guy, Not a Threat to Guns

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Thursday he has no qualms about backing Barack Obama for president, calling him an “ordinary person” who is no threat to gun owners.

Tester made the comments a day after introducing Obama in Billings, then spending time with him as the traveled on an airplane together to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The National Rifle Association has criticized Obama over his gun votes in the Illinois Legislature. But Tester said the attacks are unjustified.

“I’ve got to tell you, I’ve talked to Barack. I think he understands the issue much better than before,” Tester said in a conference call with reporters from Denver. “I am one of those guys who likes my guns, to be honest with you.”

Tester said that Obama was very clear with him.

“He told me flat out, ‘I’m not taking your guns away and don’t let anybody tell you that I will,'” Tester recalled. “This campaign does not need to be about fear, this guy is not going to take away your guns.”

Tester also said that Obama has an edge over McCain with hunters because the Democrat will do a better job of protecting public lands and open space.

The man Tester beat in 2006, former Sen. Conrad Burns, has a different take on Obama and guns.

Earlier this month Burns, who is Republican John McCain’s Montana state chairman, held a conference call with reporters about Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s assurances that Obama poses no threat to gun owners.

Burns called it “an out and out untruth.”

“This man has an abysmal record on guns,” Burns said of Obama.

McCain campaign regional spokesman Tom Steward said Obama “has been on the wrong side of the second amendment for his entire career.”

Tester acknowledged that in the past state Democrats have been hesitant to embrace their party’s national standard bearer.

“I can tell you why I am not afraid to come out as a Montana Democrat and support Barack Obama: he is an ordinary person,” Tester said. “The fact is this guy is as squared away and as normal as anyone. The fact is, that is the kind of guy we need in the White House.”

Tester said his conversations with Obama on Wednesday also covered veterans issues, such as increasing access to health care in rural areas, the role Montana can play in producing energy and the need for money to improve aging sewer lines and other infrastructure in rural towns.

“It wasn’t a debate, I mean he got it,” Tester said.

Obama has visited Montana five times, and set up a substantial campaign operation in the state even though Democratic presidential candidates have historically had a tough time in Montana. McCain so far has not visited or set up much of a campaign operation in the state.

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