REPORTING FOR ELECTION DUTY ; US Politics the Democrats Are Recruiting Iraq Veterans as Candidates in an Attempt to Strengthen Their Opposition to the War in the Congressional Elections in November. Andrew Buncombe Reports

By Buncombe, Andrew | The Independent (London, England), February 24, 2006 | Go to article overview
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REPORTING FOR ELECTION DUTY ; US Politics the Democrats Are Recruiting Iraq Veterans as Candidates in an Attempt to Strengthen Their Opposition to the War in the Congressional Elections in November. Andrew Buncombe Reports


Buncombe, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)


They are the perfect candidates. Having already served their country in uniform they are now being recruited to serve again in the halls of Congress.

In numbers unseen for more than 50 years, military veterans are being recruited to run as candidates in this autumn's Congressional elections. The majority have been recruited by the Democrats and, perhaps ironically, many of these veterans have been persuaded to run because of the continuing chaos and violence they see in Iraq.

"The Bush administration continues to say we have to stay the course until we achieve victory," said Andrew Duck, a former military intelligence officer and now at Pentagon adviser who is running for Maryland's 6th Congressional District. "But we have seen the course and it's not going to lead to victory. That is the inspiration for most of the vets."

From the perspective of the Democrats, recruiting military veterans makes perfect sense. Even though polls suggest only one in three of the American public approves of President George Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, Democrats are still considered vulnerable on the issue of national security.

Strengthening their political ranks with candidates who have military experience should enable them to bolster their credibility in an area that will be a key issue in November.

Recruitment of these soldiers-turned-politicians allows the Democrats to continue to attack the Republicans over Iraq from aposition of strength. It is much harder - though not impossible - for Republicans to accuse their critics of being soft on national security or unpatriotic if that person has recently been wearing a military uniform. America has long had a tradition of its soldiers moving into politics. From its first president George Washington through to John F Kennedy and George Bush Snr, there have been numerous examples of serving soldiers making the switch. Indeed, there have been five generals - George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield and Dwight Eisenhower - who went on to be presidents.

The two chambers of Congress have also traditionally been a stronghold for veterans. In the 95th Congress of 1977 and 1978, a full 77 per cent of senators and representatives had some sort of military service. That figure now stands at just 26 per cent.

But this November it is anticipated that about 100 veterans from conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and the Balkans will contest seats for either the House or the Senate. About 10 of these candidates served in either Afghanistan or the war in Iraq.

"It's hard to recruit people to run for Congress," said Professor Burdett Loomis of the University of Kansas, who writes a bi-annual guide to Congress. "It's no fun. It costs lots of money and you're away from your family.

"These are people who feel service is a good thing. When you have these folks run, it gives some added flavour to the issue of the war when the Bush administration wants people to think about it in black and white. They are coming back and saying, 'It's tough over there' I was on the ground'. They provide so much more depth."

Michael Lyon, director of the Band of Brothers, a group organised to promote and raise funds for more than 50 military veterans who are running as Democrats, said veterans had also proved to voters their willingness to serve.

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REPORTING FOR ELECTION DUTY ; US Politics the Democrats Are Recruiting Iraq Veterans as Candidates in an Attempt to Strengthen Their Opposition to the War in the Congressional Elections in November. Andrew Buncombe Reports
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