Candidate Buz Mills owns a shooting range and is on the National Rifle Association's board of directors, but it's incumbent Jan Brewer who has the group's endorsement in the contested Republican primary for Arizona governor.
The NRA's endorsement, announced at a Wednesday news conference, follows Brewer's signing of several gun-rights measures since she became governor in January 2009.
One bill signed by Brewer in April will make Arizona the third state allowing people to carry a concealed weapon without requiring a permit. One she signed last year allows a person with a permit to take a gun into a restaurant or bar serving alcohol as long as the establishment doesn't prohibit it and the person isn't drinking alcohol.
Brewer got an A+ rating from the NRA for her stands and record on gun issues, while Mills received an A rating, the highest rate possible for a non-incumbent, said Sandy Forman, a Tucson attorney who is a former NRA president and a current board member.
"She has a lifetime of pro-gun votes, Froman said.
Brewer served in the Arizona Legislature and on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors before serving as secretary of state, an office she held before being elevated to fill a vacancy in the governor's office.
The NRA's endorsement is regarded as politically potent, particularly in a Republican primary. The group has approximately 100,000 dues-paying members in Arizona, Froman said.
The endorsement is an example of Brewer's being helped by her incumbency, but her publicly funded campaign is being dramatically outspent by Mills' self-funded campaign.
Mills campaign spokesman Mike Scerbo declined immediate comment on the NRA's endorsement of Brewer but he noted the campaign's own recent announcement of Mills' high rating by the NRA.
Todd Rathner, another NRA board member, said its support for candidates can include mailings and exposure at candidate forums. He declined to discuss the group's plans in the governor's race.
State Treasurer Dean Martin and Apache Junction resident Matthew Jette also are running in the Republican primary.