Pennsylvania Democrat Takes Up Deer Hunting to Lure Trump Voters

A Pennsylvania Democrat takes up deer hunting to appeal to Trump voters, which has us looking back at one presidential candidate's failed attempt at hunting over a decade ago.

Pennsylvania Democrat Takes Up Deer Hunting to Lure Trump Voters

Manheim, PA, USA - October 1, 2016: Hundreds attend a rally of Donald Trump in rural Manheim, Pennsylvania, during the 2016 presidential election. 

A New York Times article published earlier this week profiled several democratic candidates in Pennsylvania, but the profiles weren't written to examine each candidate's political platform. Instead the Times cited campaign efforts made to appeal to Trump voters, including candidate Matt Cartwright's decision to take up deer hunting as a hobby.

In northeastern Pennsylvania during the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump won Cartwright’s district by 10 points. As such, according to the Times, the congressman is working to, “avoid such typecasting as a liberal shill.”

Of his new hobby, Cartwright told the Times, “My job is to get to know people and learn about their passions." There is another upside, according to Cartwright. “It helps me talk to Republican members of Congress, too,” he said in the interview. “It’s a nice way to say, ‘You know, I don’t hate you.’”

President Barack Obama did not claim to be a hunter during his time in office, but the White House did release photos prior to the 2012 presidential election of the President shooting skeet at Camp David. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

This isn’t a new idea, and the strategy wasn’t born with the election of President Trump. In fact, I remember writing about then-presidential candidate John Kerry’s staged hunt while working for the National Wild Turkey Federation in 2004. At the time, Kerry was making a last-ditch effort in October of that year, one month before the election, to distance himself from the unwanted label of "anti-gun elitist."

The staged hunt didn’t work.

On the hunting adventure, Kerry was accused of even altering his speech in an attempt to appeal to gun owners. This is how the Washington Times reported the event in a comically titled article, "When Johnny went a-huntin'":

“Mr. Kerry’s Ohio hunting adventure started last Saturday, when the senator, campaign entourage in tow, went into a grocery store and asked the owner: ‘Can I get me a hunting license here?’ Even the phraseology sounded staged. Mr. Kerry ordinarily doesn’t talk this way, and his language sounded fake and patronizing — as if he was pretending to talk like someone from rural Ohio.”

There was also a game of hide-the-blood at play during the photoshoot.

“After two hours of hunting, photographers with long photo lenses noticed that Mr. Kerry’s hand was bloodied. By the time he reached the reporters, he had tucked that hand into his sleeve. Unlike the other hunters, all of them carrying their geese, Mr. Kerry was careful not to be photographed holding the bird he shot. He’s triangulating — trying to do whatever he can to to persuade hunters he’s their buddy, without completely alienating animal-rights backers on the political left who might be inclined to support him.”

A popular meme floating around the internet of John Kerry holding a firearm, with a bit of advice on gun safety.

Before we stop recounting the memories of John Kerry hunting, there's one more quotable doozie. In July of that same year, about three months before the failed goose hunt, Kerry said this of deer hunting, according to Mark Steyn writing for London's Telegraph.

“[Kerry] was in Wisconsin the other day, pretending to be a regular guy, and was asked what kind of hunting he preferred. 'I’d have to say deer,' said the senator. 'I go out with my trusty 12-gauge double-barrel, crawl around on my stomach … That’s hunting.' This caused huge hilarity among my New Hampshire neighbours. None of us has ever heard of anybody deer hunting by crawling around on his stomach, even in Massachusetts. The trick is to blend in with the woods and, given that John Kerry already looks like a forlorn tree in late fall, it’s hard to see why he’d give up his natural advantage in order to hunt horizontally.”

In light of all the John-Kerry-inspired hilarity of 2004, I'll say this for Pennsylvania's Cartwright: At least he's created a situation where he doesn't have to be an expert or blend in as someone who hunts. Cartwright only claims to have recently picked up deer hunting as a hobby. By being honest about not actually being a deer hunter quite yet, he isn't forced to be a poser and ultimately get crucified for it as Kerry did. And that's smart. Because hunting is just one of those nuanced activities that’s hard to fake.

For context, consider how it's become trendy for marketing companies and brand experts to tout the selection of a certain product as a lifestyle choice. If you choose an Apple computer, for instance, that says something about a consumer’s lifestyle choice. I get that. Especially in the past when Apple computers were less mainstream, it was possible to guess at certain characteristics and interests of those consumers who choose Apple. But most of the time, the adoption of a product to project a lifestyle is little more than a symbolic gesture, a consumer aligning himself with the "idea" of something, not the active "reality" of something.

With hunting, it's not a lifestyle gesture or a symbol of something you've done once or twice before and bought a t-shirt to mark the moment. Hunting tends to be baked into a person's background or personal story. It stitches together a patchwork of lifelong experiences, hits and misses across landscapes that are not frequented by those who do not hunt the wild game that live there.

In a way, a political candidate who takes up hunting for the wrong reasons is like a young woman who marries for the wedding and the chance to walk down the aisle, but has no real interest in the long-term commitment the union requires. Hopefully Cartwright and other politicians like him are interested in the union and are willing to embrace the hunting lifestyle with commitment and sincerity.

Rest assured hunters and rural Americans alike know the difference, and have proven as much in election cycles long before the one coming up later this year.


Featured photo: iStock


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