More vets enlisting in the electoral wars

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“I’m absolutely not going to run a write-in campaign or try to run as a third-party candidate,” Mr. Russell vowed. “I’m a Republican, and if we’re going to change things in Washington, we need to recapture the soul of the Republican Party.”

Mr. Russell’s battle with the party establishment is one that many veterans face when looking to make the jump into politics, said D. Patrick Mahoney, an Iraq veteran and president of the Veterans for Congress political action committee.

Mr. Mahoney has been sharply critical of the Pennsylvania Republican leadership’s decision to pass over Mr. Russell, saying the move had less to do with qualifications than with the Republican establishment’s obsession with Mr. Burns’ wealth.

“That’s why you don’t see more veterans running for Congress. It’s so expensive,” he said. “It’s tough for veterans who have been fighting a war, stationed around the world. Veterans who come back and want to seek office — especially the recent vets — generally are not going to be the rich guys.”

Mr. Hegseth agreed, saying both parties too often overlook veterans’ “untapped pool of leadership” in favor of self-funded candidates who can finance their own campaigns or party loyalists who network their way onto ballots.

Mr. Hegseth said the Republicans and the Democrats should be working harder to recruit veterans, even if they are new to politics.

“That’s not a negative,” he said. “It’s good that they’re not tainted by the process that some of these other candidates go through.”

Mr. Hegseth picked five races to watch this year:

• Brian Rooney, a Marine who served in Iraq and a grandson of the founder of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, is running for Michigan’s 7th District seat, held by freshman Rep. Mark Schauer, a Democrat from Battle Creek.

• Navy vet Mark Steven Kirk could end up with President Obama’s old job, senator from Illinois. The five-term congressman, who has twice deployed to Afghanistan since 2008 as a reservist, leads Democrat Alexi Giannoulias in the polls and in the money chase.

• Active Marine Corps reservist Vaughn Ward has drawn a lot of attention in his bid for the 1st Congressional District in Idaho, especially after he won the backing recently of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Mr. Palin also endorsed two other veterans, Adam Kinzinger in the 11th Congressional District race in Illinois and Allen West in the 22nd in Florida.

• In Arkansas, Tim Griffin, a veteran and a former U.S. attorney, is battling Scott Wallace for the GOP nomination in the 2nd District.

• Steve Stivers, a Bronze Star medal winner for his service in Iraq, is a rising GOP star in Ohio making a bid to unseat Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy in the state’s 15th District.

“All are races where veterans have raised a good deal of money, in toss-up districts or states — races where we think we can have an impact,” Mr. Hegseth said.

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