US Military Veterans Running for Congress 2020: 16 Hot Races to Watch

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Nick Freitas and Abigail Spanberger
Republican challenger Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, right, prepares for a Chamber RVA candidate forum with U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., left, in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Military veterans now make up a formidable presence in the U.S. House of Representatives -- and that group may be about to get younger and more diverse following election day on Nov. 3.

There are 163 party nominees, including challengers and incumbents, running for House seats -- the most since 2012, according to information compiled by the University of San Francisco and the Veterans Campaign. That figure includes 24 women, double the number of female House candidates in the 2018 election. Overall, 77 of the 435 current members of Congress are veterans.

With some 20% of vets who came to Congress in 2018 not seeking reelection, USF and the Veterans Campaign predict it's unlikely that the proportion of vets in the House will increase with this election. But the veteran cohort is likely to get younger, adding more Millennials and post 9/11 veterans. Already, according to the organizations, 30% of the Millennial members of Congress are military veterans.

As you watch the election returns, here are 16 of the closest and most exciting congressional races involving vets. Check out all the Senate races featuring veterans here.

The Toss-Ups

1. VA-2: Elaine Luria vs. Scott Taylor

In Virginia, it's a Navy vs. Navy contest. Luria, a Democrat and retired Navy commander, is seeking to keep the seat she won in 2018. She's up against Taylor, a Republican and former Navy SEAL who served in Iraq. It's a race with history -- Luria unseated Taylor, who represented the district from 2014 to 2017. While the nonpartisan prediction site 270toWin shows Luria winning reelection by a narrow margin, in a swing state like Virginia, it's still anyone's race.

2. VA-7: Nick Freitas

Freitas, a Republican, served in the Army as a Green Beret, completing two tours in Iraq and getting out as a sergeant first class in 2009. A current member of the Virginia House of Delegates, he's up against Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operations officer who is fighting for a second term. Some polls show Spanberger in the lead, but the race is nonetheless one of the closer congressional matchups.

3. NY-2: Jackie Gordon

Gordon, a Democrat, is running for the seat being vacated by outspoken Republican Peter King. She's up against Republican Andrew Garbarino, a member of the New York State Assembly. But she will have to overcome some recent accusations to prevail as well. Garbarino, who served in the Army Reserve for 29 years and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, has been dogged by an investigation from her time in command of the 310th Military Police Battalion in Afghanistan that reportedly unearthed a toxic command climate and called for her relief. Gordon has emphasized her honorable service and commitment to her country.

4. NY-11: Max Rose

Rose, a Democratic incumbent elected in 2018, is locked in a tight race with challenger Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican. Rose, who continues to serve in the National Guard following a 15-year active-duty Army career, is an Afghanistan veteran with a Ranger tab who earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. His military and congressional duties have intersected: in March, he deployed to New York City as part of the Guard's COVID-19 pandemic response mission.

5. PA-10: Scott Perry

Perry, a Republican who has served in Congress since 2013, is facing a serious challenge from Democrat Eugene DePasquale. Perry was a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard at the time of his retirement in March 2019. A helicopter pilot, he saw service in Iraq.

6. MI-3: Peter Meijer

Meijer, a Republican, served in the U.S. Army Reserve, deploying to Iraq as an intelligence adviser. He's running for a seat being vacated by Libertarian Justin Amash, and he's in a near dead heat with Democratic challenger Hillary Scholten. While some may know Meijer as a member of the family that owns the major midwestern supermarket chain, he's also been active in a number of prominent veterans organizations, including Team Rubicon and Student Veterans of America.

7. MN-1: Dan Feehan

Feehan, a Democrat, joined the Army after Sept. 11, 2001 and rose to the rank of captain. In addition to his military tenure, which included service in Iraq, he also served in the Pentagon as the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness, performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense for readiness. He's hoping to unseat incumbent Republican Jim Hagedorn, who was elected in 2018.

8. MN-7: Collin Peterson

Peterson, a member of the Minnesota Democratic--Farmer--Labor Party, served in the U.S. Army National Guard from 1963-1969. He's defending his seat against Republican challenger Michelle Fischbach, who previously served as Minnesota's lieutenant governor, and prior to that was the state's first female president of the Senate.

9. NE-2: Don Bacon

A former brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force, Bacon is a Republican incumbent who assumed his seat in 2017. He's facing a challenge from Democrat Kara Eastman. Bacon, who retired in 2014 after a career that included service as a wing commander at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, narrowly defeated Eastman to keep his seat in 2018.

10. TX-22: Troy Nehls

Republican Pete Olson is vacating his seat, leaving Nehls, a Republican, and Sri Preston Kulkarni, a Democrat, in a close race. Nehls, the sheriff for Bond County, Texas, served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1988-2009, retiring as a major following a career that included deployments to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

11. CA-25: Mike Garcia

Garcia, a Republican, is an incumbent who took office earlier this year in a special election after the resignation of predecessor Katie Hill. Garcia faces a challenge for his seat from Democrat Christy Smith in a toss-up race. After 10 years on active duty with the Navy, Garcia transitioned to the Reserve in 2009, serving there until 2012. An F/A-18 Hornet pilot, he completed more than 30 combat missions over Iraq in 2003.

Notable Challengers

12. MD-1: Mia Mason

Mason, a Democratic challenger, served in the Navy, Army and D.C. National Guard. She's hoping to unseat Republican Andrew Harris. She has a story of perseverance in the face of unfriendly military policy -- a transgender veteran, she was discharged from the Navy under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that was repealed in 2010. She would ultimately complete five combat deployments.

13. PA-17: Sean Parnell

Parnell, a former Army Ranger who now writes best-selling military thrillers, is looking to add another accomplishment to his resume, challenging Democrat Conor Lamb. Parnell, who served in combat as a captain, received two Bronze Stars. According to his website, he has since been influential in the passage of the VA Mission Act and VA Accountability Act. His books include Outlaw Platoon.

14. TX-11: August Pfluger

Pfluger, a Republican and retired Air Force colonel, might be the first pilot of a 5th-generation fighter to be elected to Congress. He's running to fill the seat of retiring Republican Mike Conaway, a former Army specialist. His competition is Democrat John Mark Hogg. In addition to a high-speed military career that included more than 300 hours of combat missions against ISIS, Pfluger has also served on President Donald Trump's National Security Council.

15: TX-13: Ronny Jackson

Going into the election, Jackson may be one of the best-known congressional hopefuls because of his previous role as Trump's Navy physician. A Republican, Jackson hopes to fill the seat left vacant by retiring House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry. He's up against Democrat Greg Trujillo. Jackson, who retired as a rear admiral in 2019, has been outspoken in his defense of Trump, and made headlines in October when he publicly questioned challenger Joe Biden's mental fitness for office.

16: UT-2: Kael Weston

This last race is an exception. The incumbent, Republican Chris Stewart, is the race's military veteran. He flew fighter jets and the B-1 Lancer bomber in the Air Force, leaving the service as a major, and has the high-flying distinction of holding the world record for fastest non-stop flight around the world -- accomplished as part of a flight of two B-1s. But his challenger, Democrat Kael Weston, is also a highly distinguished former national security official who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the State Department, and earned the department's Award for Heroism for bravery during the Battle of Fallujah. Weston is also the author of New York Times bestseller The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct Meijer's district.

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

Related: Veterans in the Senate and the 2020 Election: What You Need to Know

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