Standing between rows of shotguns and rifles Thursday at McClelland Gun Shop in Dallas, Gov. Rick Perry picked up the endorsement of the National Rifle Association and promised to promote gun rights if he's elected to an unprecedented third term.
No one expected the endorsement to go the other way. The NRA and its Texas affiliate, the Texas State Rifle Association, tend to endorse pro-gun incumbents. And former Houston Mayor Bill White, Perry's Democratic opponent, had already riled up gun enthusiasts by his previous membership in a New York-based gun control group.
But Perry, whose race with White remains competitive despite the state's pro-GOP leanings, is eager to draw attention to an issue important to many Texans as the Nov. 2 election looms in less than 50 days.
"Everyone knows Rick Perry is pro-gun," said Chris Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, who came to Dallas from Washington to lend some heft to the event. "The coyote population knows he's pro-gun."
He was referring to Perry's now famous faceoff with a coyote earlier this year. Perry shot one on his morning jog and, after grabbing headlines about it, eventually inspired the manufacture of a special-issue, Ruger .380 caliber handgun -- "for sale to Texans only." It was the same kind of gun the governor used to kill the animal.
Perry called himself a "card carrying member" of the NRA and said was "honored" to have the endorsement of the group and its Texas affiliate.
While Perry was touting his pro-gun credentials, White was criticizing the governor for scheduling a "wild game" fundraising dinner and concert that appeared to be tailored for men. In an e-mailed invitation to the Perry fundraiser, scheduled for Sept. 29 in Houston, Perry's campaign finance chairman, Jim Lee, said the campaign is "limiting the crowd" so that donors can get to know the governor better.
The protein-heavy menu for the fundraiser includes "chicken fried venison," wild boar, stuff pheasant, axis deer, wild game sausage and venison tamales.
"First we will have dinner and then wives (or) significant others (will) join us for Pat Green," Lee wrote in the invitation. Green is a well-known country and western singer. It was the second type of fundraiser that the Perry campaign has held.
White called on Perry to release the names of those who attended the first event and who was e-mailed about the second one.
"Real men tell the truth. How many women were at the first wild game dinner," said White spokeswoman Katy Bacon. She said the invitation showed that "only some have a seat at the table" at Perry fundraisers.
Perry said he was "stunned" the White campaign was making an issue out of the event, which he said was family-oriented.
"I suspect it will be just like it was last year," Perry said. "Not only were there women, there were children," Perry said.
Campaign spokesman Mark Miner said donors and their spouses, regardless of gender, were welcome to attend both the dinner and concert. He said there were no plans to release the guest list.
After the Dallas event, Perry went to Sherman, where he spoke to about 80 supporters at Boiler Room Coffee. A handful of protesters, holding placards calling on the governor to debate White, greeted Perry as he walked into the cafe. Perry ignored them, telling reporters inside he was sticking to his plan not to get on the same stage with the Democrat.
Perry later flew to a fundraiser in Powerdly, near Paris, Texas, at the Robert Drake Party Barn.