Democrat Veterans in Congress: Identifying Trends Among Veteran Candidates
The 2018 general elections proved to be a turning point for veteran representation in Congress. For a variety of reasons, veteran numbers in Congress have seen steady, even dramatic, decline since their peak in the 1970s.
Now, however, there seems to be a shift underway. While overall veteran numbers have declined since the Korean and Vietnam wars, 2018 marked a historic uptick in candidates with military experience. And in a new turn of events, there was also an increase in the number of Democratic candidates with military experience.
This presents a slight dilemma for the opposing side. In 2018, over 200 candidates with veteran experience ran for office. An increase in Democratic veteran candidates may be what the party aims for with the 2020 presidential election coming up.
The strategy of a veteran candidate is multi-faceted. One advantage that veteran candidates have is the general universal respect and esteem that comes with the experience they have. Regardless of party affiliation, veterans often garner respect based on their experience and pragmatic viewpoints.
Democrats have identified veterans as a potential lifeboat, given the fact that these candidates may automatically garner more universal respect and support. As any party looks for a leg up on the others, the veterans considering a run for office may see an increase in courtship from the Democratic side of the line.
This universal respect also makes it difficult to campaign against a veteran candidate. While mudslinging is a common political practice, it can be poor taste to launch a smear campaign against a veteran. For these candidates who run strong, biography-driven campaigns, the chances of success are higher.
Party leaders must see this trend in veteran support — particularly among voters who have a strong inclination to vote for defense and foreign policy related matters — as a signal to lobby harder for an increase in veteran candidates.
The peak of veteran representation in Congress came in the 1970s. Of course, general numbers of veterans were much higher, ranging from World War II to the Vietnam War. Since then, however, and with few exceptions, veteran numbers have steadily seen a drop-off.
In 2010, the first recorded increase of veteran numbers in Congress was recorded since the 70s peak. From that point on, numbers did not see another uptick until the 2018 election cycle.
While veteran numbers are lower now than they were in the 1970s, this strong showing of candidates is encouraging. Many with military experience see political office as a viable option for a “second service”, and their world view is often highly respected among voters.
This influx in candidates, along with their tenacity and resilience on the campaign trail, makes veterans formidable political opponents. In rare instances in 2018, veterans of opposing parties were pitted against each other — one race in Florida and one in Massachusetts saw two veterans facing off.
These candidates help rally those wavering on the fence on some issues, appealing to their patriotic side by continuing to fulfill their original intention to put their country first.
So will we continue to see an increase in Democratic veteran candidates? Likely, yes. As the political climate reaches a boiling point ahead of the 2020 presidential election, voters will be closely watching all facets of the government and casting their votes accordingly.
The Democratic trajectory of supporting veteran candidates is likely to continue, as they will always present a consistently strong and diverse platform that is difficult to oppose. For this reason, it will be implicit to have a strong platform if a candidate finds themselves running in opposition of a candidate, regardless of partisanship, with military experience.