FISHERSVILLE, Va.—Mitt Romney officially won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association on Thursday, a show of support that could help his campaign's efforts to turn out voters on Election Day.
While Romney has repeatedly assured audiences of his strong support for the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the NRA had held off on officially backing the Republican nominee. During the GOP primary, the group expressed displeasure with Romney's past support for gun control measures when he was governor of Massachusetts.
But Romney didn't exactly clamor for the NRA endorsement either. In the aftermath of July's deadly movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., Romney rejected calls for new gun control laws, but he also went out of his way to say he doesn't agree with the NRA's agenda on everything.
"Their agenda is not entirely identical with my own," Romney told NBC News.
But those words seemed forgotten on Thursday as hundreds of NRA members, wearing bright orange hats, turned out for a southern Virginia rally featuring the GOP nominee and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan.
Before Romney took the stage, NRA officials came out and officially announced their support for him, describing the GOP nominee as the "only choice" for voters who support gun rights.
"We stand on the edge of an Obama cliff with our freedom," Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president, said.
He pointed to potential U.S. Supreme Court picks under Obama, insisting that "one to three more Sotomayors and Kagans, and we can kiss our constitutional right to own a firearm in the United States goodbye along with a lot of the rest of our freedoms."
"We can't let that happen," he said.
Taking the stage later, Romney said he appreciated the group's support—but he didn't speak at length on gun issues, instead delivering his usual stump speech, which is heavy on issues like tax policy and how he would work to turn the economy around.
At the top of his remarks, Romney briefly addressed Wednesday's debate with President Barack Obama, praising moderator Jim Lehrer for offering "questions of substance." He said the debate was "a chance to cut through all the attacks and the counterattacks and all of the theatrics" of the campaign so far.
As a result of the debate, "the American people recognize he and I stand for something very different," Romney said. "He had a chance to describe his vision for the future, and it was more of the same… a series of ideas we've heard before."
But, Romney added, "What you didn't hear from the president is why the next four years will be better than the last four years. … We can't afford four more years like the last four years."