Democrats seek veteran candidates, but this is not the first time: district partisanship matters

In 2016, Democrats nominated 173 candidates to take on Republican incumbents in the House of Representatives while Republicans chose 102 people to take on Democratic incumbents. Ignoring open seats (as well as California and the other states with top-two nominating systems), I plotted the kinds of districts where these nominations took place to contrast where military veterans were nominated versus nonveterans.


Parties differed in where veterans emerged from the primaries. The 26 Republican veteran candidates ran in races that were 5% more competitive than Republican nonveterans, while the Democrats nominated 34 veterans in places that were more red than the Dem nonveterans.

This says that both parties are nominating a lot of military veterans, but Republicans do so in more competitive districts (at least in 2016) than the Democrats do.

This seems a bit odd, given that Democrats have very recently signaled that they hope to nominate veterans and highlight them as a theme.

It’s not the first time Democrats have signaled the importance of veteran candidacies. In 2006, Democrats nominated even more Democrats to run than 2016, the “Fighting Dems,” but they mostly lost–largely because they ran in districts where Democrats had little hope of prevailing, irrespective of the quality of the candidate.

Dem vet seeks to replace Dem vet seeking to be Minnesota’s governor

An OIF veteran with experience in the Obama White House, Dan Feehan, wants Minnesota’s 1st district to remain represented by a Democrat and by a veteran. Its current representative, Tim Walz, decided to run for the Governor’s mansion instead of reelection. Trump carried MN-1, just as similar areas of rural Wisconsin and Michigan went for Trump to tilt the Electoral College his way. I know a little bit about Walz. In 2012, I published a short piece in Armed Forces & Society that exploited a campaign advertisement Walz ran in his first House election in 2006. (I edited out the bits pertaining to his military experience to make two versions and varied the treatment to find out how potential voters perceive political candidates’ military service.) It’s obviously early, and Feehan is currently one of five Democrats seeking the nomination to win a district that could be an uphill climb for Dems in 2018.

Distinguished Flying Cross awardee (and Longhorn) aiming for TX-31

In a report that reads a bit too closely to her Wikipedia page in the Hill Country News, Mary Jennings Hegar has thrown her hat in the ring for a House seat. She isn’t the only Democrat in the race, but I predict she’ll earn more ink given her military background, heroics that led to the medals, and the fact that Hollywood is making a movie about her story.

Tough district for a Dem pickup, though. The Democrats who have tried have not cracked 40%, and one year did not nominate a candidate. It’s something like a minus 12 for Cook, with a majority white population that Romney and Trump easily carried. I however suspect John Rice Carter, the incumbent, will be more nervous this cycle than he has been with his past challengers.

US Marine vs. Nancy Pelosi?

Seth Moulton (D MA-6) led Marines on four tours in Iraq despite being personally against the war, and some have speculated that he is a prospect for the Democrats’ big dance in 2020. Maybe. What makes him interesting now are his calls for changes in his party’s leadership in the House. He’s not the only person critiquing Nancy Pelosi in the wake of special election losses of course (races in which we always risk overinferring the political winds), but keep an eye on how he uses his time as a Marine as part of his rhetoric about the need for responsibility for the election losses. I track the way political elites employ their service to communicate political messages, and Moulton’s explicit language helps him telegraph his rivalry with Pelosi at the same time that he reminds potential voters of his time in Iraq. (Photo credit)

Randy Bryce and how the media biographizes challengers

A potential challenger to Paul Ryan in WI-1 (which Trump carried 53-42) is emerging in the news and his name is Randy Bryce. His recent long-form ad is making a lot of noise on social media, and so is his facial hair (check out his Twitter handle). His campaign website’s biography discusses his time in the US Army, and media descriptions rarely fail to add a inset comma-ed “…, and Army Veteran,…” to a biographical sentence. However, it’s a long shot (and he’s no stranger to losing elections), while his ad and mustache have made more headlines than his military service record. Hard to know, also, how much attention he would garner if he sought to unseat someone other than the Speaker of the House.


Transgender veteran contesting NC-02

It’s always risky to look ahead this far out for 2018, but the Carolina second district, where the Republican incumbent George Holding has a not-quite-competitive district (which is considered an opportunity for Democrats for North Carolina),  at GOP +7. Hoping to win the bid to unseat him is Wendy Ella May, a transgender candidate who has made VA issues one of her key campaign themes. What does the crystal ball suggest? May is not the first transgender veteran to run of course. Last cycle Kristin Beck, the author of Princess Warrior, a transgender former Navy Seal, attempted to defeat longtime incumbent Steny Hoyer in MD-5 in the primaries. She made headlines, but the context of the race with Hoyer’s powerful incumbency means we should not use the race as a barometer for the political viability of transgender veterans–Democratic groups that might support a candidate like Beck are not likely to endorse against the Democratic Whip no matter who else is on the ballot.

Navy vet hopes to challenge Frelinghuysen

ms-01While we have some time before the primaries that will decide it, Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill hopes to be the Democratic nominee in the New Jersey eleventh district. The long time incumbent (remembering that his family name holds even longer incumbency) has made some unforced errors recently that may have opened the door to higher quality challengers and greater out-of-district fundraising. Frelinghuysen’s 11th district was very closely balanced between Clinton and Trump in last year’s general election, so we’re keeping an eye on this race. ( post)