Election 2008

Iraq vets congress, iraq vets run for office
Ron Edmonds/AP
Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa.

Iraq Combat Veterans Run for Office to Redefine War Debate

September 11, 2008 08:58 AM
by Christopher Coats
Combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have struck out on the campaign trail in an attempt to offer a unique legislative approach to ongoing conflicts.

Veterans in Congress

Representing both parties in roughly equal numbers, veterans of the ongoing military campaigns have begun campaigning for Congressional seats across the country, representing a two-fold increase from the mid-term elections of 2006.

Setting this year apart from the last national election cycle, this year’s class of veteran candidates contains more Republican hopefuls than 2006, who describe themselves as “pro-victory” when it comes to the war in Iraq.

Two years ago, Congressional races saw a surge of Democratic veterans running for office, including Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, focusing mainly on the Bush administration’s tactics in Iraq and benefits and medical care for returning soldiers.
However, this year, a number of veterans have launched campaigns aimed squarely at supporting the current administration’s plans in both theaters, though they have also made benefits for soldiers a central part of their platforms.

Driven to run by what they describe as the need for greater representation of combat veterans, and to provide a counter to the Democratic veterans who tended to side with the party in their criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the conflicts, Iraq Veterans for Congress created a 12 candidate movement in hopes of creating a like-minded caucus in the House of Representatives should they win.

Despite their differences, veteran candidates from both sides of the aisle have been said to offer unique views into not only the operational and logistical demands of war, but the “human side” of conflict as well.

This insight, however, may not be enough to secure a victory in November. As the election season progresses, domestic issues, specifically the insecurity surrounding the U.S. economy, have taken center stage.

Opinion & Analysis: Will they win?

Although the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan remain pivotal issues in the election, observers stress that candidates, no matter what their background, will need to show a grasp of a wider array of issues.

Indeed, combat experience is far from an assurance of victory, as Democrats discovered in 2006 when all but one of their candidates fell short of winning.

The lone Iraq vet currently in Congress, Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania’s 8th District, is part of a decreasing minority of members of Congress who have served in the armed forces.

In 1977, three-quarters of Congress had served in the military, compared with just under a quarter today. This new wave of candidates could signal a return to a larger veteran presence in the coming years.

Related Topic: Military service in presidential elections

Much of this depends on how much weight voters give military experience this November. On the presidential level, twice as many veterans have been elected as those with no military experience, though nonveterans have beaten those who served in combat in six of the last eight elections.

This year, military experience is again at the fore of the presidential race, with John McCain touting his time in Vietnam over Barack Obama’s absence from the armed forces.

What sets these aspiring Congressmen apart, however, is direct experience in conflicts that exist today and will likely continue into the near future.

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