Duncan Hunter Re-Elected Despite Indictment; Other Veterans Flip Key Seats

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., center-left, greets campaign workers at a call center on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2018, in Santee, Calif. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., center-left, greets campaign workers at a call center on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2018, in Santee, Calif. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

A nail-biter midterm election concluded with a mixed bag of results for military veterans seeking to acquire or retain congressional seats in contested races.

In California's solid-red 50th Congressional District, veteran Marine officer Duncan Hunter managed to fend off controversy, including a criminal indictment involving allegations of personal expenses listed as gifts to wounded warriors, to retain his seat. He handily beat Democratic challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar to win another term.

Elsewhere, some of the most talked-about veteran candidates came up short: Retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath in Kentucky's 6th District and former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar in Texas' 31st District, who both made headlines with viral campaign ads touting their trailblazing military careers, were both unable to unseat Republican incumbents in their races.

However, there were key flips that will result in some fresh faces headed to Congress.

Veterans Claim New Seats

Former Navy Surface Warfare Officer Elaine Luria, a Democrat, unseated another vet, former Navy SEAL Scott Taylor, to win Virginia's 2nd District. Max Rose, a member of the Army National Guard in New York City's 11th District, unseated Republican incumbent Dan Donovan.

Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger, defeated Republican incumbent Mike Coffman, a veteran of the Army and Marine Corps, to claim a seat in a much-watched race in Colorado's 6th District. And Rebecca Michelle "Mikie" Sherrill, a retired Navy helicopter pilot, edged out Republican Jay Webber in New Jersey's 11th District.

There were some key gains for Republican candidates too.

Michael Waltz, a decorated former Green Beret and Fox News commentator, will head to Congress as a freshman in Florida's 6th District after defeating Democrat Nancy Soderberg. And Denver Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer, held off Democrat Leslie Cockburn to win in Virginia's 5th Congressional District.

In another key win, former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw, a Republican, won in Texas' 2nd District Tuesday after finding himself the butt of a "Saturday Night Live" joke over the weekend. Crenshaw, who lost an eye in an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan, was mocked by SNL cast member Pete Davidson for looking like "a hitman in a porno movie" in a joke that was widely criticized by military and veterans organizations.

Crenshaw beat Democrat Todd Litton to win the seat.

Uncalled Races

A few contests remained too close to call.

Perhaps the most high-profile of these races is that of Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel who ran for the Senate in Arizona against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. McSally, a former pilot and outspoken advocate for the aging A-10 Thunderbolt II, which she flew while in service, is making a bid for the Senate after three years in the House.

In another highly contested Senate race in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, a former Navy radar technician, has declared victory over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, a veteran Army officer. But with fewer than 35,000 votes dividing the two candidates, Nelson has asked for a recount.

'Put Country First'

According to Military Times, which tracked every House and Senate race involving a veteran candidate from any era, 77 veterans won their races, and another 15 incumbents went unchallenged.

With 10 races yet to be called as of noon Wednesday, it appears that the 116th Congress will not have a larger proportion of veterans than the 115th Congress, which had 76 vets in the house and another 17 in the Senate.

But the freshman class of veterans headed to Congress includes a number of vets from the post-9/11 era, as well as several women, who remain a small minority of veterans in the House and Senate.

The cross-partisan organization With Honor, which endorsed 39 veteran candidates, evenly divided between the two political parties, announced Wednesday morning that 17 of its endorsed candidates had won their races, including newcomers Luria, Sherrill, Rose, Crenshaw and Waltz, among others.

"We need leaders on both sides who will put country first," Rye Barcott a Marine vet who co-founded With Honor, said in a statement. "The problems we are taking on -- hyper-partisanship, dysfunction in Congress, and the decline of veterans in public office -- are debilitating to our country. In our first cycle, I am proud that With Honor has helped at least 17 veterans win across the country, and we are excited to continue to tackle the hard work of fixing our broken politics."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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