When he meets voters in Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District, former Army Ranger Kevin Strouse recounts how he helped clear a city block in Iraq during the rescue of prisoner of war Jessica Lynch in 2003. The story is meant to show his experience working with others to accomplish a goal.
“In the military, it’s always a team effort,” says Strouse, who completed three tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq and now is running as a Democrat, hoping to unseat GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick next year. “There’s a hierarchy, but things get done because people work together.”
In Arizona, Republican Martha McSally is putting her military service at the forefront of her second congressional campaign and emphasizing what she calls the Air Force’s core values.
“Service before self, integrity and excellence in all we do,” says McSally, the first woman in U.S. history to command a fighter squadron in combat. “And those are the character traits that are sorely lacking” in Washington.
She narrowly lost last year to Ron Barber, a former aide to Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who represented a Tucson-area district until she was wounded during a mass shooting in 2011.
Strouse and McSally are among the more than dozen veterans recruited to run for the House in 2014. Both parties have sought out candidates whose records allow them to appear to be perfect antidotes for the partisan, gridlocked Washington. Each side hopes its challengers can run effectively against incumbents inextricably linked to a national capital that, polls show, the public detests.
Operatives say veterans can capitalize on the public’s high regard for military service and the record-low confidence it has in Congress.
What’s not lost on the parties is that there are many potential candidates to choose from, including those with long careers in the armed forces, now that thousands more veterans are returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.
In House races expected to be the most competitive, Democrats are pushing eight challengers who either served in the military or continue to do so through the National Guard or Reserves; the GOP champions five veterans. Other veterans are in races that aren’t top targets on the national parties’ lists of competitive races.
Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to seize control of the House.
Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, predicts that the October government shutdown will make a veteran’s service more compelling for voters.
“They are the perfect contrast to a do-nothing member of Congress who is willing to shut down the government versus a veteran who devoted his or her life to serving their country,” Israel said.