Fairfax, VA (CNN) - Republicans are pressing their supporters to pull out the stops in the effort to retake the House in November's elections, but one of their frequent allies – the National Rifle Association – is still endorsing candidates in either party.
The gun-rights group has endorsed over 200 Republican candidates for Congress, but it has also endorsed 64 Democrats – including a number of incumbents who Republicans believe may be vulnerable, like Chet Edwards in Texas, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in South Dakota, and Tom Perriello in Virginia.
Among Republicans, "there's just a frustration right now, because you're in a lot of really heated races at this point," says former GOP Congressman Tom Davis, who once headed the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Republicans felt that the NRA was part of their coalition."
A spokesman for the NRA explained that the organization uses only the issue of gun-owners rights to endorse candidates, regardless of party. And if two opposing candidates earn the same rating, the association generally favors the incumbent.
For example, in South Dakota's congressional race, both the Democrat and the Republican candidate received a grade of "A" on gun-owners rights, but the NRA website lists an endorsement for the Democrat – an incumbent.
Some Republicans believe the NRA is missing a larger strategic opportunity to defeat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – a Democrat who favors gun control. "The NRA is Helping Preserve the Anti-Gun Democrat Majority," said a recent posting on redstate.com.
But Davis says the organization needs to pay back the incumbents, in either party, who went to bat for it on issues like not reviving the assault-weapons ban. And it's wise not to place all your eggs in one basket, he says.
"The NRA has figured out - why own one party, when you can own both parties?"
The National Rifle Association boasts around four million members, and has a substantial campaign war chest, with $15 to $20 million earmarked for spending on the 2010 cycle. It has also produced ads supporting at least seven Republicans, in Senate, House, and gubernatorial races.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the group has donated $169,500 to Democratic and $350,550 to Republican Congressional campaigns this cycle. Of the ten candidates who got the most, four are Democrats.
Its endorsement of several Democrats facing tough re-election fights, highlighted recently in National Review and the Washington Post, could help some of those embattled Democrats stave off defeat, according to CNN senior political editor Mark Preston – particularly in races in the West and the South, and in rural areas.
"Republicans are going to go out and try to label all these Democrats 'Nancy Pelosi Democrats,' " said Preston: "If you have the NRA's backing, you can say, I'm not a 'Nancy Pelosi Democrat,' I'm a Democrat that represents you."
But if the Republicans do win control of the House, could the NRA's support for losing Democrats come back to haunt it?
"I think there will be kiss-and-make-up time when this is over," said Davis.