The Fightin' Dems

January 3, 2007 Topic: CongressDomestic PoliticsElectionsPolitics Regions: Americas Tags: Iraq War

The Fightin' Dems

Mini Teaser: Despite a seeming parade of veteran candidates, war-veteran Democrats didn’t take an inordinate number of seats this past election.

by Author(s): Brendan Conway

They also found that they could turn the "swift boating" tables with these military-vet candidates. Many did: Some tended to personalize their Republican opponents' policy criticisms, as though the criticisms were intended to impugn the integrity of the Democratic vet him or herself (which, in some cases, might actually have been the case). The story took hold and then filtered out to reporters nationwide in search of a trend.

But things never quite worked out the way the enthusiasts seemed to suggest they would. By Election Day, it was clear that only a handful of "Fighting Dems" would be victorious. This owed in part to the concentration of the candidates in "red" states where the party figured, often correctly, that a military biography would carry more weight than the typical blue-state congressional district, but where circumstances all but ensured long-shot candidacies. But it also occurred because many of these candidates, mostly first-timers, simply were not sufficiently good campaigners, were not particularly well spoken or were too one-dimensional to excite voters.

Tellingly, half of the six vets who won did so because the incumbent was scandalized and dropped precipitously in the polls once the scandals broke. Virginia's James Webb bested Sen. George "Macaca" Allen after the latter's demeaning remarks to a non-white Webb volunteer on the campaign trail and after the "Felix Lumbroso" Jewish heritage controversy. Pennsylvania Pentagon advisor Chris Carney defeated Don Sherwood after the latter's campaign plummeted amid lurid revelations of a scandal involving a mistress, physical altercations and hush money. Then Vice Adm. Joseph Sestak (ret.) beat ten-term Pennsylvania Republican Curt Weldon after the fbi raided the incumbent's daughter's offices in connection with alleged lobbying abuses with likely ties to Weldon himself. Weldon's race was competitive but winnable before the raid; afterward it was all but lost.

The three "Fighting Dems" to win without the help of a major incumbent scandal were Minnesota Guardsman and schoolteacher Tim Walz, who narrowly defeated incumbent Gil Gutknecht; Democratic Iraq veteran and Army lawyer Patrick Murphy, who bested incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick, also narrowly; and former National Guardsman Phil Hare of Illinois, who won a race for an open seat being vacated by a popular retiring Democrat for whom Hare once worked as a congressional staffer.

Elsewhere, "Fighting Dem" favorites like Eric Massa in western New York and Jay Fawcett in Colorado lost by a few percentage points. They mostly faced uphill battles in conservative-leaning districts where, absent the "Fighting Dems" hype, their candidacies strained credulity, even in a "wave" year like this one.

Of course, it did not immediately matter that the "Fighting Dems" only took about 10 percent of the seats they contested. A Democratic wave overtook Capitol Hill and swept the party into power in both houses of Congress for the first time in twelve years.

Over the long term, what matters more is that these candidates seem to have helped the Democratic Party alleviate a perception problem on national security-with very clear consequences for the conduct of American foreign policy for the next two years and probably beyond.

Brendan Conway is an editorial writer at The Washington Times and a journalism fellow at the Phillips Foundation.

Essay Types: Essay