February 3, 2006

Iraq war vets enter US political fray

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats have enlisted special help
in the battle for Congress from a small band of Iraq war
veterans, hoping their military experience turns into
campaign-trail credibility with voters.

At least 10 veterans of the Iraq war are running for
Congress, all but one as Democrats, in what amounts to an open
challenge to both President George W. Bush's policies in Iraq
and the traditional Republican advantage on national security

The Iraq veterans, all political neophytes, say the call to
arms in November's election is a natural extension of their
military service. For many, it is also a direct result of their
experiences in a war they now oppose.

"The veterans who served in Iraq have a special voice and a
responsibility to continue our public service," said Patrick
Murphy, a lawyer and veteran of the Army's 82nd Airborne who is
seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Rep.
Mike Fitzpatrick in suburban Philadelphia.

"We've seen the truth and we're willing to stand up for
it," Murphy told Reuters. "I have seen with my own eyes why we
need a change in direction there, but when I came home I saw
that it's not just about Iraq."

Democrats believe the war veterans will be good messengers
in an election year they hope focuses on the war in Iraq,
Republican corruption scandals and sagging public confidence in
Bush's leadership.

The Iraq veterans, part of a larger group of more than 50
military veterans running for Congress this year as Democrats,
also could be an antidote to decades of Republican attacks on
Democrats as weak on defense.

"Their experience gives them instant credibility and the
ability to break out and get their views heard," said Amy
Walter, a House analyst with the Cook Political Report. "But it
can be a double-edged sword if they get pigeonholed as
one-issue candidates."


Republicans have one pro-war Iraq veteran running for
Congress - in Texas - and more than 40 military veterans on the
ballot in House races, but they dismiss their political impact.

"Having military experience is a great resume item, but it
does not automatically make someone a good candidate," said
Carl Forti, spokesman for the House Republican campaign
committee. "It takes a lot more to be a credible candidate than
one strong resume point."

Forti said many of the Iraq veterans are long shots running
in Republican districts where local and domestic issues
dominate the agenda. The Democrats point to Paul Hackett, an
Iraq veteran who nearly pulled off a huge upset in a heavily
Republican Ohio district last summer, for inspiration.

Hackett is now running for the Senate in Ohio in a
high-profile primary clash against Democratic Rep. Sherrod
Brown. Other veterans in competitive races include Murphy,
running in a Democratic-leaning district, and Andrew Horne, a
Marine Reserves lieutenant colonel vying for the right to
challenge perpetually endangered Republican Rep. Anne Northup
in Kentucky.

Tammy Duckworth, a helicopter pilot who lost both legs in
Iraq, has garnered a wave of media attention for her race in
the Republican district of retiring Rep. Henry Hyde in

The Democratic veterans all share a distaste for the war,
but like the rest of their party differ on the details of how
to end it. They also pledge to be more than one-issue
candidates, and say their experiences in Iraq taught them
bitter lessons about Bush's leadership on a range of topics.

"The current circumstances in Iraq are just a symptom of
what is wrong with the administration," Horne told Reuters.
"This administration acts with arrogance, doesn't get advice
from Congress or allies, has difficulty acknowledging its
problems and politicizes everything."

Democrats have learned the pitfalls of relying on military
credentials in a campaign, most recently when decorated Vietnam
War veteran John Kerry saw his record shredded under heavy
Republican attack during the 2004 White House race.

The Democratic veterans have formed a political action
committee to promote their cause and fight back against
Republicans, and will kick off the campaign with events in
Washington next week.