With An Eye On the House, Democrats Turn To Veterans For 2018 Races The new effort is designed to puncture Republicans' hold on the so-called guns-and-guts vote, while also appealing to voters' apparent desire for political outsiders.

With An Eye On the House, Democrats Turn To Veterans For 2018 Races

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We are more than a year away from the 2018 midterm elections, but a trend is emerging among the field of Democratic congressional candidates. Democrats are recruiting military veterans. Steve Mistler of Maine Public Radio reports.

STEVE MISTLER, BYLINE: It's probably safe to say that a lot of Mainers don't know Jared Golden.


JARED GOLDEN: For those of you who don't know me, my name is Jared Golden. And today I formally announce my candidacy to represent Maine's 2nd Congressional District.

MISTLER: The 34-year-old Democrat is the assistant majority leader in the Maine House of Representatives, and he's trying to unseat two-term Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin. It's a big, rural district that's swung between Democrats and Republicans. And Golden's pitch to voters starts with his military career.


GOLDEN: I'll never forget what it felt like running across the field and up the ridgeline toward the sound of the gunfire. On the other side of that ridge, three of our marines were in a firefight. We were racing to get there faster because they needed us to have their backs.

MISTLER: Golden served combat tours as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his first campaign ad, he's shown jogging on a back road, wearing a T-shirt with a slogan adopted by the Marines. Pain is weakness leaving the body. The ad is slick, professional, and it highlights Golden's military service. Golden is 1 of 20 military veterans recruited by Democrats to run for Congress in 2018. Another candidate who has attracted attention is Amy McGrath, who's running against a Republican incumbent in Kentucky.


AMY MCGRATH: I was the first woman Marine to fly in an F-18 in combat, and I got to land on aircraft carriers.

JEREMY TEIGEN: Military veterans have been looked to as an electoral asset since the very beginning of the republic.

MISTLER: Jeremy Teigen is a political science professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey and an author of the upcoming book "Why Veterans Run," a historical look at veterans running for office. He says that military veterans have been sought as candidates since the election of George Washington. And Teigen says there are a lot of reasons why veterans are considered good candidates, including the perception that they're not career politicians.

TEIGEN: Military service provides a very easy-to-consume cue for voters to perceive someone who has leadership, selflessness, patriotism.

MISTLER: Democrats hope that cue will help them carve into what Teigen describes as Republicans' hold on the guns-and-guts vote. That's voters who value national security and a strong military. Democrats also hope veteran candidates can inoculate themselves against specific GOP attacks. Last year, Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt accused his challenger Jason Kander of voting to erode gun rights. Kander, a former Army captain, responded by releasing a video in which he reassembles an assault rifle while blindfolded.


JASON KANDER: And in the state legislature, I supported Second Amendment rights. I also believe in background checks so that terrorists can get their hands on one of these. I approve of this message because I'd like to see Senator Blunt do this.

TEIGEN: He definitely won the award for best ad of the cycle, certainly.

MISTLER: But Kander still lost that race. And Teigen says that contest in Missouri illustrates what history has already taught us - that veterans running as Democrats can have an advantage against Republicans who haven't served. But the district can't be too strongly Republican, and Democrats still have to offer something fresh to voters. For NPR News, I'm Steve Mistler in Lewiston, Maine.


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