Unhappiness with war in Iraq chance for veterans in congressional races

A large and possibly unprecedented number of former soldiers, sailors, Air Force personnel and Marines are running for Congress this year amid unhappiness with the war in Iraq. About 40 of the candidates are Republicans, while at least 55 are Democrats. By one count, at least 11 veterans of the Iraq war or Afghanistan are hoping to get elected to the House or Senate, all but one of them Democrats.

After 20 years in the Air Force and Bronze Star service during the 1991 Gulf War, Democrat Jay Fawcett decided to come home and run for Congress, largely out of disgust with the way American troops are being used in Iraq. "I think it's just gotten to the point where a significant number of us who've served are looking at this administration particularly, and Congress doesn't get off the hook, and saying, `What're you doing? What's the plan?"' he said.

The fighting Democrats, as some call themselves, say their military experience could give them the credibility to criticize the war without being dismissed out of hand by the Republican party as naive and weak on defense, as the Bush administration has often done.

"One of the things I think is behind this movement is, we're not stupid in the military. We know when we've been used and misused," Navy veteran Bill Winter, a Democrat who hopes to challenge Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo in the Republican suburbs of Denver.

Former Sen. Max Cleland, a Democrat from Georgia, who lost both legs and an arm while serving in Vietnam, said the Iraq war veterans running as Democrats will offer "a direct rebuttal" to the administration on the Iraq war.

"This administration, come April, will be going into the fourth year of this war after the president said three weeks into it `Major combat over, mission accomplished, bring them on,"' Cleland said. "You tell me who's out of touch. It's not these Iraqi veterans that are coming back and saying, `This is not the way it was on the ground there, and I'm going to do something to change this."'

Fawcett, who spent years as a defense contractor after leaving the Air Force, wants to take on Republican Rep. Joel Hefley in a Colorado Springs-area district that has one of the country's biggest concentrations of veterans. It includes the Air Force Academy, two Air Force bases, a major Army installation and NORAD, the air defense command. The district has been represented by a Republican since the seat was created after the 1970 Census.

The roster of Democratic veterans includes engineers, teachers, lawyers, business owners, a pastor. Their stands on the war range from calling for immediate withdrawal to demanding a clearer timetable and a way out. Fawcett, for example, says that pulling out now would be a mistake, but that the Bush administration has failed to clearly state its goals and an exit strategy, reports the AP.


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