28 Hot Congressional Races Veterans Are Trying to Win in the Midterms

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Cal), and Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla), are three of over 200 veterans vying for House and Senate seats in the upcoming midterms. (AP Photos)
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Cal), and Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla), are three of over 200 veterans vying for House and Senate seats in the upcoming midterms. (AP Photos)

This year's midterm elections have brought a wave of veteran candidates, and experts say if they win their seats it could bring more bipartisanship and foreign-policy oversight to Congress.

More than 200 veterans were vying for House and Senate seats this election season. Dozens of those candidates will now duke it out on Tuesday in some of the country's most hotly contested races.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report identified 73 House and 14 Senate races that are likely to be highly competitive this Election Day. Of those races, 28 will have veterans on the ballots.

"Statistically, it's interesting to me, since we've moved to an all-volunteer force, that we're seeing so many veterans run compared to the percentage of Americans who serve," said Danielle Lupton, a political science professor with Colgate University in New York. "But veteran status is often an asset on campaigns. It can lend credibility, a sense of character and willingness to serve."

Ellen Zeng, the political director for With Honor, a cross-partisan organization that has endorsed 20 Republican and 19 Democratic veterans running for the House, said there are strong candidates who would bring a fresh approach to Washington politics. The veterans they've endorsed, six of whom are women, come from a diverse background and have signed With Honor's pledge to serve with integrity, civility and courage.

"There's something about this group of people," Zeng said. "They want to do things in a different way. They want to serve with integrity and serve across the aisle."

Aside from their time in uniform, the candidates have served as teachers, small-business owners or pastors, she said. They show a commitment, she added, to putting country before party.

Data also shows that veterans in Congress, regardless of party, are more likely to hold the commander-in-chief accountable when it comes to sending troops into harm's way, Lupton said.

Her research has shown that veterans use their military expertise, which civilian members of Congress might lack to sharply question any use of military force. They also request more data about ground conditions troops could face.

Here's a look at some of next week's races that could send more veterans to the Capitol.

SENATE RACES

In the Senate, there are three tight races with veterans on the ballots. In one of those, two veterans will face off against each other.

Arizona: Retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally, who served as an A-10 pilot, is the Republican incumbent on the ballot. McSally sits on the House Armed Services Committee and will face off against Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat who currently serves in the House.

Florida: Two veterans -- former Army Capt. Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent, and Rick Scott, Florida's Republican governor who served as a Navy radar technician -- will compete for a Senate seat.

New Jersey: Bob Hugin, who served as an active-duty and Reserve Marine infantry officer, is running as a Republican against Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democratic incumbent.

HOUSE RACES

On the House side, there are more than two dozen tight races with veterans on the ballots. In three of those, veterans will face off against each other.

California's 10th District: Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, a former staff sergeant in the Air Force and Reserve, will try to hold onto his seat Tuesday. He's being challenged by Josh Harder, a venture capitalist running as a Democrat.

California's 25th District: Republican Rep. Stephen Knight, who served in the Army and with the Los Angeles Police Department, will also try to retain his seat in the House. He's opposed by Democratic candidate Katie Hill.

California's 39th District: Gil Cisneros, a former Navy supply officer who won the lottery in 2010, is running as a Democrat against Kim Young, a Republican politician who served in the state assembly.

California's 50th District: Republican incumbent Rep. Duncan Hunter, a veteran Marine officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is being challenged by Democratic candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar. Hunter, who has served in the House since 2009, is under federal indictment for allegedly misusing campaign funds. Hunter has denied any wrongdoing, calling the situation "a witch hunt."

Colorado's 6th District: Former Army Capt. Jason Crow, a Democrat who saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, is trying to unseat retired Marine Maj. Mike Coffman, the Republican incumbent who also served in the Army and sits on three House Armed Services subcommittees, including the one on military personnel.

Florida's 6th District: Retired Army Lt. Col. Michael Waltz, a Special Forces officer with several combat deployments, is running as a Republican against Democratic candidate Nancy Soderberg, who served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

Florida's 16th District: Republican incumbent Rep. Vern Buchanan, who served for six years in the Michigan Air National Guard, will try to hold onto his seat, which is challenged by Democratic candidate David Shapiro, a longtime attorney and the son of an Iwo Jima veteran.

Florida's 18th District: Republican incumbent Rep. Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost both legs in an improvised-explosive device attack in Afghanistan, is fighting for his seat against Democratic candidate Lauren Baer, an attorney and foreign-policy expert who served in the Obama administration.

Illinois' 12th District: A pair of veterans is facing off for this House seat: Former Navy officer Brendan Kelly is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent and Marine Corps veteran Rep. Mike Bost.

Kansas' 2nd District: Steve Watkins, a West Point graduate and former Army captain who served in Afghanistan, is running as a Republican with the backing of controversial former Trump administration official Steve Bannon. Watkins is running against Paul Davis, a Democrat who served in the state House of Representatives.

Kentucky's 6th District: Retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, a Naval Academy grad who flew F/A-18 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Rep. Andy Barr.

Maine's 2nd District: Jared Golden, a veteran Marine infantryman who served in Afghanistan, is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin. Golden serves in his state's House of Representatives.

Minnesota's 1st District: Dan Feehan, an Army vet who served in Iraq, is running as a Democrat against Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn. Feehan was the acting defense secretary during the Obama administration.

Nebraska's 2nd District: Republican incumbent Rep. Don Bacon, a retired Air Force one-star, will fight to defend his seat from Democratic candidate Kara Eastman, who's described as politically progressive. Bacon is currently a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

New Jersey's 11th District: Former Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Michelle "Mikie" Sherrill, a Naval Academy graduate who served as a helicopter pilot, is running as a Democrat against Jay Webber, a Republican member of the state general assembly.

New York's 11th District: Max Rose, a Purple Heart recipient who served in the Army, is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan. Rose, according to his bio, is the first post-9/11 Afghanistan combat veteran to seek office in New York City.

North Carolina's 9th District: Former Marine Corps Capt. Dan McCready, who served in Iraq, is running as a Democrat against Republican candidate Mark Harris, a pastor who previously ran for the Senate and the House.

Pennsylvania's 16th District: Ronald DiNicola, who served as a Marine and won the All-Marine boxing title, is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Kelly.

Pennsylvania's 10th District: Two veterans are facing off there: Retired Army Lt. Col. George Scott, a pastor, is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Perry, a one-star in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Texas' 22nd District: Republican incumbent Rep. Pete Olson, a former Navy pilot, will defend his seat from Democratic challenger Sri Kulkarni, who served as a diplomat in Iraq, Russia and Israel.

Texas 23rd District: Former Air Force Capt. Gina Ortiz Jones, who served as an intelligence officer in Iraq, is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Rep. Will Hurd.

Virginia's 2nd District: Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Taylor, who served as a Navy SEAL on counter-narcotic missions in Central and South America, will fight to hold onto his seat against Democratic candidate Elaine Luria, a retired Navy commander who served as a surface-warfare officer and nuclear engineer.

Virginia's 5th District: Denver Riggleman, a former Air Force avionics technician who later earned his commission, is running as the Republican candidate with the "total endorsement" of President Donald Trump who says he "really knows how to get the job done!" He's running against Democratic candidate Leslie Cockburn, a former journalist who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

West Virginia's 3rd District: Retired Army Maj. Richard Ojeda, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now a member of the West Virginia Senate, is running as a Democrat against Republican candidate Carol Miller, a member of the state House of Delegates.

Wisconsin's 1st District: Randy Bryce, an Army veteran who served in Honduras and went onto assist homeless veterans, is running as a Democrat against Republican candidate Bryan Steil, who has spent years working in manufacturing. Bryce is an ironworker and testicular cancer survivor.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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