Asma Khalid’s worked up a story on a “JFK with tattoos,” a Democrat with military service hoping to win a congressional seat this cycle. The article focuses on Richard Ojeda, and the first sentence, as articles like this tend to, makes his time in the army central to his identity as a political candidate. Now, obviously, reporters engaging stories about congressional (or presidential) candidates vis-à-vis military service experience generally makes me happy. Yet, I wish more journalists understood and contextualized the district partisanship and underlying demographics. Khalid does disclose that Ojeda is swimming upstream: West Virginia was quite taken with Trump in ’16 while Romney and McCain carried it with more modest but still comfortable margins. I recently retweeted another article that was less sensitive to context that referred to Democratic veterans as a “secret weapon,” and Alexander McCoy over at Common Defense wasn’t having any of that.
His take is worth repeating: vets’ DD-214 is not in itself a ticket to Election Day success. Not every candidate with a service record will be buoyed by their time in uniform. It depends heavily on the context in which they’re running. We should focus on Ojeda’s service record, sure, but he’s also what election scholars refer to as a “quality candidate,” because he’s won previous elections and served as as state legislator.
George P. Bush, who does does not share the rest of his extended family’s disdain for Donald Trump, is a rising political force in Texas. He’s running for reelection in his statewide job (and presumably stepping stone to higher office) of State Land Commissioner. However, Jeb Bush’s son seems to be tripping over his military service record.
W. Gardner Selby just wrote a piece about a recent mailer Bush sent out to Texans. He claims to be a “Retired U.S. Navy officer,” but those with military experience or connections thereto know that “retirement” is different than “veteran.” It takes a career to retire and it comes with far more benefits than those who separate after one or two hitches in uniform. Don’t expect the campaign to make the same error twice if this turns into bigger news.
Utterly irrelevant side note for full disclosure: I once got George P. Bush out. In the early ’00s, both he and I were students at the University of Texas and played intramural softball. He was a law student, I in political science (our team name: “The Regime”). Bush batted left and I played deep right. They crushed us in the final score, but I found the right spot in the outfield to wait. The ball stayed in the air for about a week (he did *not* inherit a “low energy” swing from his dad), but I got it.
I received word that there was a female veteran hoping to challenge Republican Sean Duffy of the Wisconsin 7th congressional district. The district appears fairly purple, and we all know that rural Wisconsin is ground-zero for the sort of places where Trump gained ground on Obama’s previous vote shares. It’s unclear if she is the sole Dem in the race, but we’ll stay tuned to WI-7. The district has a veteran population right around 10%
An article on WKOW’s website is not terribly revealing, but I gathered that Margaret Engebretson is putting her military service experience center stage given that her Twitter handle is @vetfordemocracy. What caught my eye at the tail of the story (twin tail?!?), however, was that she plans to officially announce her candidacy at the Richard I. Bong historical site.
Who is Richard I. Bong, you ask? He is one of Wisconsin’s most famous sons! The Medal of Honor winner shot down 40, FORTY, Japanese planes over the Pacific in World War II. He flew one of the most distinctive of our fighters, the twin-tailed, twin-engined P-38.
With the propellers off to the side, the P-38 could support a ton of gun right in the nose. (Photo, which is not Bong’s plane, from Wikimedia)
Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is starting to become one of the most newsworthy members of her cohort of legislators. She recently announced her pregnancy, which warranted coverage given the fact that no sitting U.S. senator has ever had a baby (given birth!) before.
However, more relevant to our interests, she has become one of the top Democrats’ go-to Donald Trump critics. I’m paying specific attention to how she weaves her own military service in Iraq into her criticisms of the president.
Duckworth, an OIF Black Hawk pilot injured by an RPG, has been increasingly vocal in engaging Trump. Her most recent appellation for the president is “Cadet Bone Spurs,” circa this tweet:
This was a retort, hitting back at Trump’s February 5th diversion-from-the-teleprompter in Ohio, in which he insinuated that those that failed to clap for him at the State of the Union were possibly “treasonous,” though he framed it in his frequently-used “they say” or “some say” pattern.
She’s also called him a “five-deferment draft dodger,” presumably in reference to the educational and medical deferments Trump obtained during the Vietnam War.
In my new book, I did my best to make a bang-up index. Regrettably, while you can find “beef, embalmed,” I felt “spurs, bone” not sufficiently index-worthy. More seriously, the book does of course speak to Trump’s 2016 candidacy in the context of other Vietnam-war eligible presidential candidates, roughly from Bill Clinton to Trump.
(image from wikimedia)
WHYY has a story on Rachel Reddick, Chrissy Houlahan, and Shelly Chauncey–three women with military or national defense credentials. Reddick was in the navy, Houlahan served in the air force, while Chauncey spent time in the Central Intelligence Agency. (Houlahan pictured above, photo from her campaign website)
The story ominously, but probably accurately predicts how these candidates to take advantage of voters’ perceptions of candidates with defense credentials:
Expect to see some military imagery when the ads, videos, and mail pieces appear this spring.
The three women are Democrats. Reddick, challenging in the 8th PA district, faces the most vulnerable incumbent. Romney barely won the district in 2012 and the incumbent, Brian Fitzpatrick (a former FBI man), scratched out a close victory in 2016.
Last night, Steve Bannon went to Fairhope, Alabama to stump for Roy Moore in the special US Senate election a week away and attacked an unlikely foe. In addition to taking swipes at Moore’s actual opponent Doug Jones, he launched a direct verbal attack on Mitt Romney’s lack of military service in the 1960s. He put Moore’s Vietnam service as an MP officer on a pedestal to segué into the Romney criticism. Beyond saying Romney used his religious deferments to avoid Vietnam, he attacked the Romney family for having five sons and zero Desert Storm/OIF/OEF veterans among them:
You had five sons, not one day of service in Afghanistan and Iraq… Where were the Romneys during those wars? You want to talk about honor and integrity, brother, bring it. Bring it down here to Alabama. (Video can be seen here)
You may recall that previous military service was far from a central issue in the 2012 presidential election when Romney was the Republican nominee. As I detail more fully in the book, Romney did get into a little political trouble for seeming to equate his son’s efforts to help him on the campaign trail with military service.
For the record, Wikipedia describes Bannon’s naval service during the late seventies and early eighties as his political awakening. Also for the record, the man he helped elect as president used educational and medical deferments (potentially dubious ones) to avoid military service during the same period Mitt Romney faced the draft.
Time magazine featured a story on Rye Barcott‘s organization WithHonor that hopes to facilitate more veterans into elected positions in the future. Their explicit assumption is that more veterans in public office would reduce polarization in Washington DC and elsewhere. One method toward that end is a pledge that veteran candidates would sign on to, that among other things, would make candidates promise to “…join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on at least one piece of major legislation each year, and co-sponsor additional pieces.” There is no questioning the negative correlation between the declining veteran proportion in Congress and increased partisan rancor and polarization since the 1980s, but we all know there is more to the story than a decline in the numbers of congressmen and women with DD214s. That said, it can’t hurt, and I am encouraged by the disproportionately high number of OIF/OEF veterans entering politics.
Congressional incumbents with military service put their voices together to tell Trump to quiet his more bellicose language on North Korea. The mostly-Democratic “bipartisan joint statement” explicitly relies on the military biographies of the co-signers. Members such as Tulsi Gabbard, Tammy Duckworth, and especially Seth Moulton (who’s chartered a veteran PAC) are not new to using their unique wartime experiences to help get their voice above the noise. The Joint Chiefs of Staff statement that the only military solution to removing DPRK’s nukes was a land invasion opened the door for veterans’ statement. Here’s the money paragraph:
As Veterans, we have defended this nation in war and we remain committed to this country’s security. We also understand that entering into a protracted and massive ground war with North Korea would be disastrous for U.S. troops and our allies. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, it appears, agree. Their assessment underscores what we’ve known all along: There are no good military options for North Korea.
We’ve talked about the rising profile of Seth Moulton (MA-06) here before, and he is making military-veteran-candidate news again.
Moulton, according to the Lowell Sun News, rolled out a political action committee to help steer funds to Democratic challengers with military experience for next year’s midterms. We’re talking more than $600k so far. It’s called Serve America PAC.
The article points to a handful of races that the PAC plans to target. MN-01 caught my eye first because that was Tim Walz’s district–a rural, mostly white prairie district that Romney almost won and Trump easily did (Clinton only grabbed 38%). KY-06 is another reach. Moulton backs Amy McGrath there (discussed previously), but it’s an uphill climb. Romney and Trump both carried it with 56%.
West Virginia’s 2nd of three congressional districts will be even more unfriendly territory. Moulton supports Aaron Scheinberg to unseat Alex Mooney. Yes, it is the most blue of WV’s three districts, but that’s a relative statement. Romney won WV-02 with 60% and Trump by 66%.
Lower hanging fruit for Democrats can be found in NC-09. Serve America PAC backs former marine Dan McGready there to take on Pittenger, who’s been in office since 2013. Cook has the district at R+8 and Trump had 54%.
The best shot among the districts mentioned in the article might be in New Jersey. Longtime incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen has not enjoyed good news cycles lately. NJ-11 is a purple district (Cook R+3 and Trump won by a whisker). The challenger is Mikie Sherrill, who has done some fundraising on her own.
We’ll keep our eyes on the PAC’s efforts–both as an interesting election phenomenon regarding the politics of military service and as a barometer of candidate viability.
Joseph Weber wrote a piece for Fox (online) that surveys the Democrats’ efforts to recruit military veteran candidates to take on Republican incumbents in the midterms next year. It addresses some of the important issues around political aspirants’ military service experiences, namely the power of issue ownership and a sensitivity to the fact that Democrats do not enjoy an equal chance of unseating GOP congressmen nationwide.