When the election season started, there was a lot of noise about so-called "Fighting Dems" -- dozens of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, almost all running for Congress on the Democratic ticket, and almost all fed up with how those wars were being run. "The party leadership is calculating that candidates who wore the uniform [could] offer a credible counterpoint on national security to Republicans who have dominated the debate from the campaign trail to Capitol Hill," the Washington Post reported back in February. And with forceful, articulate candidates like double-amputee Tammy Duckworth attracting national attention, it seemed like the calculus was paying off.But something strange happened last night, amid the Democratic sweep. Almost all of the Fighting Dems lost. Duckworth, running a Republican-leaning district, was defeated by a couple of percentage points. In Maryland, "Democrat Andrew Duck, a former Army intelligence officer in Iraq, lost to Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett," USA Today notes. "Former naval officer Eric Massa lost to Rep. Randy Kuhl, R-N.Y."There were exceptions, of course: Admiral Joe Sestak beat shady Curt Weldon in Pennsylvania. Nearby, ex-JAG Patrick Murphy is basically tied up with his opponent. But for the most part, these veteran candidates came up short.How come? Well, the majority of 'em were political neophytes. And knocking off an incumbent Congressman is a tough job, even for an experienced pol. Several of the Fighting Dems never made it out of the primaries, the L.A. Times observes. "Andrew Horne, a Marine Corps reservist in Kentucky's 3rd District, and David Ashe, a Marine lawyer, in Virginia's 2nd. One vet, former Marine Tim Dunn, quit the race for North Carolina's 8th District, citing financial pressures."More significant, perhaps, was that many of the veterans were running in districts ordinarily toxic to Democrats."They made each race much closer than it ever should have been," Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, tells Defense Tech. "Tammy [Duckworth] should have been blown away. [Republican Peter] Roskam had so much more money and a district that always favors an R [Republican]. Her story, and her veteran status, are the only thing that kept her close."UPDATE 12:06 PM: Several recent veterans did win their Congressional races last night, including former Naval Intelligence officer Chris Carney and Army National Guard artilleryman Tim Walz. But they didn't serve directly in Afghanistan or Iraq.
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