Even without his guns, Brad Campbell is disarming.
The Eliot House senior slides into a booth in the Wursthaus restaurant in Harvard Square, fingers the bill of his dark cap with "NRA life Member" in gold print, and flips open the menu.
A companion might be expecting a conservative tirade from the former president of the Harvard Republican Club and a guardian of Peninsula, a conservative campus magazine. Instead, Campbell, who spent three years rowing crew, jokes about his growing waistline. The NRA cap? He likes to shock Harvard liberals with the cap and by "whistling `Dixie' in the Yard." And when he meets someone open-minded, the cap can prompt a conversation that bridges ideological divides.
"I have a number of liberal friends who have friends who say' I can't believe you talk to that guy,"' Campbell says. "I love it when after a section, people ask who was that making comments, and they can't believe it's really me, the guy in the NRA."
Talk to some liberals and moderate Republicans around campus, and you think an impostor has shown up for this interview at the Wursthaus. William Zerhouni '98, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican board that succeeded Campbell's (the outgoing president didn't like Zerhouni's moderate stands on abortion and other social issues), calls him "sleazy, bigoted and intolerant."
"Brad is the essence of what people see in politics and what people hate about politics," Zerhouni says.
Campbell retorts that Zerhouni's complaints are those of someone who had his chance for election, and lost. Yes, Campbell is socially conservative and politically ambitious, and no, he won't apologize for it.
"Having The Crimson or somebody call you a fascist is a badge of pride," he says. "At Harvard you can describe your success by the quality of the enemies you make. When you see someone react that way, you know you've struck a blow for real America."
Campbell's ideas may be controversial, but his explanations are reasoned and thoughtful. He argues that George Bush acted hastily in resigning from the NRA, and, nothing the government's errors in Waco and the Randall Weaver Case, offers a spirited defense of the controversial NRA fundraising letter which called some agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms "jack-booted thugs."("Those comments were referring to those specific cases where lives were lost or there was damage because of the ATF," he says). On abortion, Campbell says the debate is between those who put "self-interest" first versus those who believe in moral principles.
Campbell, who will work for new U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.)next year, plans to run to think about possible districts from which to launch his campaign. And nearly everyone who knows him believes Campbell will make it to Capitol Hill.
Many students think of him for his guns, which he and other members of the Harvard Shooting Club keep in the University police station.(He refuses to say how many guns he has but acknowledges he owns an AK-47,
Which he uses "for fun, to shoot cans andstuff").
What fewer people know is that Campbell may be,in the words of one friend, "the best listener oncampus." He leans in close and looks you right inthe eye. He is charming, unfailingly polite andoften funny. Many would disagree with hispolitics, but what is there to dislike about Bradcampbell?
WARSAW (population 1697) comfortablystraddles the Osage River in the Missouri Ozarks.Brad's mother, Joan, says Campbells have beenliving, working and teaching on this jagged, rockysoil for five generations.
Warsaw, which was founded in 1837 in what hadbeen Osage Indian territory, was named in honor ofa Polish general who aided the Colonies during theRevolutionary War, according to John Owen, a92-year-old Warsaw resident and a member of thelocal historical commission. The town is the seatof government for Benton County, named after aU.S. Senator from Missouri.