This presidential election, for the first time in decades, will not feature candidates for the highest office in the land donning hunting gear and going out with guns to shoot small animals fleeing in terror. The contrast to the 2004 election, in which both candidates made a publicity stunt out of killing for votes, is stark.

In September of that year, The Arizona Republic published in September a strong op-ed by former White House speechwriter Matthew Scully, who excoriated both presidential candidates for killing innocent creatures while trolling for votes. Scully, a true-red Republican who loathes cruelty to animals, wrote:

Sport hunters, in the rhetoric of the 2004 campaign, are nature’s noblemen, the object of endless flattery from both candidates because of the importance of rural swing states. In West Virginia a few weeks ago, President Bush declared, “I’ve come by because first I love to hunt and fish,” and now repeats the theme at every rural stop. Senator Kerry meanwhile was in Iowa, struggling before a skeptical audience to convey his own passion for the blood sports: “I go out with my trusty 12-gauge double-barrel, crawl around on my stomach … That’s hunting.”

Groveling in word is no longer enough, however, to convince sport hunters you’re one of them. And so we now have the dreary ritual in which candidates have to go out and kill something, with cameras present to record the moment. Senator Kerry got the job done in Iowa last fall, summoning the regional media to come along and watch him dispatch a couple of pheasants. Two shots, two birds, five minutes, and it was over, leaving us all so very impressed.

This year, neither of the two leading candidates looks likely to kill animals for votes. Barack Obama has said he doesn’t hunt. In a speech yesterday before the National Rifle Association, John McCain criticized the Democrats, claiming they wanted to make gun ownership illegal, but earlier let slip (here) that he doesn’t own a gun and has no interest in buying one.

This has led to some grumbling among gun lovers, especially since McCain in the past supported a ban on unregistered sales at gun shows. The Los Angeles Times found one writer at sayuncle.com, a popular gun rights site, saying of McCain at the NRA convention that "He needs to be in the audience listening instead of being at the podium speaking. Maybe Cheney will take him hunting."