- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Marine veteran Kieran Michael Lalor spent months serving his country in Iraq, but he says his personal struggle to win the war is only half fulfilled.

That’s why he decided to run for Congress, he says.

He isn’t alone. Almost 30 military veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, are running for House or Senate seats - more than double, by most accounts, compared with the 2006 elections.

“People look at the average politician as a career politician who is completely self-serving, and I think people are sick of that kind of candidate,” said Mr. Lalor, a Republican running to represent New York’s District 19. “Who better to participate in federal legislation than those who have protected this country?”

Neither the Democratic nor the Republican party keeps definitive lists of war veterans running for Congress. However, about 18 Republicans and almost 10 Democrats are believed to be running active campaigns for one of the 435 House seats nationwide.

The Republicans support the Bush administration’s war policy, while the bulk of the Democrats are opposed to the war and want U.S. combat forces out of Iraq.

“Getting involved in public life is a natural extension of service on the battlefield,” said Pete Hegseth, an Iraq war veteran and chairman of Vets for Freedom, a group dedicated to electing pro-Iraq-war candidates to Congress. “There’s a realization when you’re a solider or Marine that what you do on the battlefield is, while the most important part, only one part of what it takes to win or lose a war.”

Most Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans running for Congress are long shots to win their parties’ primaries, let alone the general election in November. However, a small handful in each party have a legitimate chance of winning, political experts say.

“I think the reason there are more [war veterans] running this year than in 2006 is there are simply more veterans across the country after two more years,” said David Wasserman, who covers House races for the Cook Political Report.

While veteran status can give a new candidate an initial boost of publicity, many are unprepared for the riggers of a long, multi-issue campaign, Mr. Wasserman said.

“In 2006 we saw some [war veteran] candidates who were able to use their service to their advantage because it bolstered their credentials as political outsiders,” he said, “but some people had a tough time transitioning from the role of solider to candidate.”

“I think we’ll see the same sorting out in 2008,” Mr. Wasserman added.

The only Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran currently in Congress is Democrat Rep. Patrick J. Murphy, who in 2006 narrowly knocked off Republican incumbent Michael Fitzpatrick to win Pennsylvania’s District 8 seat.

Mr. Murphy, who opposes the war, was a central figure in his party’s Fighting Democrats movement in 2006 intended to elect like-minded veterans to Congress.

However, with last year’s “surge” of U.S. troops helping quiet violence in Iraq, pushing the conflict’s troubles off the front pages of newspapers, Republican Iraq war veterans are more emboldened to run for office this election cycle than in previous years.

They also are better organized, with groups such as Mr. Hegseth’s Vets for Freedom - which includes a political action committee - and Mr. Lalor’s Iraq Veterans for Congress lending support for veterans running for office.

“I would love to see more veterans who support completing the mission in Congress than those who don’t because I think that would accurately reflect the composition of veterans” nationwide, Mr. Hegseth said. “The vast majority of veterans believe in what they are fighting for and believe in the need to finish it.”

Californian Duncan Duane Hunter, who has served multiple tours with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the Republicans’ best chance of electing a pro-war Iraq veteran to Congress. Mr. Hunter, 31, is running to represent the state’s District 52 seat, held since 1981 by his retiring father, Duncan Hunter.

The younger Mr. Hunter last month easily won the Republican primary for the San Diego-area seat, considered to be one of the most politically conservative in the nation.

Ohio state Sen. Steve Stivers, an Army veteran of the Iraq war, is the Republican nominee in the race to fill Ohio’s District 15 seat, which is being vacated by the retiring Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce. Mr. Stivers will face Mary Jo Kilroy, who lost to Ms. Pryce in 2006 by fewer than 1,100 votes. Most political analysts say the race too close to call.

A few Democratic Iraq war veterans also are poised for strong showings in November, including Ohio state Sen. John Boccieri, who won the Democratic primary in March for the state’s open District 16 seat. He will face Republican state Sen. Kirk Schuring in November’s general election, a race considered to be a tossup.

Democrat Ashwin Madia, a lawyer and Marine veteran who served in Iraq, also is in a tight race in Minnesota’s District 3 race. In Maine’s District 1, Democrat and Iraq veteran Adam Cote is running a strong campaign to succeed the retiring Democrat Rep. Tom Allen.

Perhaps no House race nationwide will have a more vigorous debate on the war than in Mr. Murphy’s suburban Philadelphia district, where his Republican challenger is Tom Manion, a retired Marine whose son died while serving in Iraq in 2007.

With the slumping economy replacing the war as nation’s biggest concern, however, voters may take less notice in November of whether or not a candidate has combat experience in the war on terror than in previous elections.

“The candidate has to show a broader portfolio than just knowledge of the situation abroad,” Mr. Wasserman said. “The candidate has to be comfortable talking about a wide variety of issues on the campaign trail.”



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