Gizzi on Politics: May 5-9

This Time, GOP Vets For Congress

One of the more intriguing political stories of ’06 was how many military veterans ran for Congress as Democrats on anti-Iraqi war platforms and how few ran on the Republican ticket in favor of the U.S. mission in Iraq. 

And the rest of the story was that a large number of Democrats were elected, including: Jim Webb (a veteran of Vietnam and onetime secretary of the Navy) as senator from Virginia, Reserve officer Chris Carney in Pennsylvania’s 10th District (Scranton), U.S. Army Iraq veteran Patrick Murphy in Pennsylvania’s 8th District (Bucks County), and two-star Adm. Joseph Sestak (the highest-ranking naval officer ever elected to the House) in Pennsylvania’s 7th District (Delaware County).  Other Democrats lost, notably Tammy Duckworth, Blackhawk helicopter pilot and double-amputee who narrowly lost a nationally-watched race in Illinois’ 6th District, and retired Col. Charles Brown, loser of a tight contest in California’s 4th District (Sacramento) against Republican Rep. John Doolittle.  Doolittle is retiring this year and Brown is again likely to be the Democratic nominee.

This year, about 40 veterans—many of whom who saw action in Iraq—are running for the U.S. House across the nation. A large percentage are Republicans. Many pundits liken this fresh wave of men and women recently out of uniform running for Congress to the wave that swept into Washington in 1946, when Richard Nixon first won a California House district and Joe McCarthy won a Senate seat from Wisconsin. With scores of veterans in their ranks, Republicans captured control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 16 years.

The ability of Gen. David Petraeus in televised forums to explain the success of the surge and help cause a turnaround in public opinion about the Iraq mission has had much to do with the rise in pro-Iraq veterans’ running for Congress. In addition, groups such as the new Veterans for Victory Committee have been very busy recruiting veterans to run as Republicans. As Don Lester, a U.S. Air Force veteran of Vietnam and leader of Veterans for Victory, told me during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington earlier this year: “Our goal is to elect pro-military leaders to Congress and the Republican ticket is clearly the best means to do that.”

Here are a few of the interesting contests involving veterans:

The Battle of New York-26

A House race that could well be the subject of a gripping political novel is taking place in New York’s 26th District (Greater Buffalo), where Republican Rep. Tom Reynolds is retiring after a decade. In the three-candidate Democratic race, the favorite of Democratic leaders is Jon Powers, teacher, U.S. Army captain, and backer of an Obama-style exit from Iraq. Republicans also have three candidates and one of them is U.S. Army Sgt. Dave Bellavia, who takes the McCain-Petraeus line on Iraq and is himself a decorated veteran of the second battle of Fallujah. (See Human Events Sept. 25, 2007. )

“Iraq is important,” Bellavia, winner of the Silver and Bronze Stars and nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor told me during a recent visit to my office, “and after Fallujah and the surge, all Iraq needs now is a Wal-Mart and casinos. We’re almost finished with the job, so let’s do it right.”

But the infantryman prefers to talk about bread and butter issues—free trade (“Protectionism will destroy our economy”), making the Bush tax cuts permanent, ending the federal gasoline tax, and tougher security on the borders with both Mexico and Canada. Bellavia’s plain-spoken style and war-hero persona have won him scores of fans and volunteers. He feels “confident” of winning the ballot line of the New York Conservative Party, telling me that “all but one of its seven county chairmen in the district are with me.”

The Republican line, he admits, is another story. Bellavia noted that there are two multi-millionaire businessmen, Chris Lee and Rick Lewis, who are also seeking the GOP nod to succeed Reynolds.

“I’m not sure how conservative they are or where they stand on issues,” he told me, “All I hear is how they can ‘self-fund.’ Quite frankly, the Republican Party can do a lot better than finding billionaires. It can get candidates who talk the language of the middle class and blue- collar workers.” (Bellavia has raised only $35,000, but predicted, without any qualification, “I will be in six figures in 30 days.”)

With the same self-confidence he demonstrated on the battlefield, Bellavia predicted he would eventually triumph through straight talk on issues and shoe leather. As for leading Democrat and fellow Iraqi veteran Powers, Bellavia shook his head and said, “He’s far left, like a lot of Democrats running for Congress this year.”

Myers At War in New Jersey-3

New Jersey is one of the few states remaining in which party organization and endorsement pack a wallop. As a result, no matter how illustrious a candidate’s credentials or how conservative he or she is, what often matters more is whom the county committee endorses.

Enter Chris Myers, mayor of Cherry Hill Township and a Gulf War veteran. Myers is one of several Republicans vying for the 3rd District seat that GOP Rep. Jim Saxton is relinquishing after 24 years. Typical of Garden State Republicans in nomination battles, Myers began a recent conversation with me here by noting, “Burlington County [GOP organization] has endorsed me and I expect to have support from Camden.”

Myers and Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly are widely considered the leading two GOP candidates in a three-person contest that is viewed as the first competitive primary since then-state legislator Saxton won the nod to succeed late GOP Rep. (1969-84) Edwin Forsythe nearly a quarter century ago. In terms of GOP votes, Ocean is about even with Burlington, which is almost sure to be with Kelly, who also holds a job with the South Jersey Port Authority.

However, when it comes to issues, Myers feels he has an edge in the June primary. As he puts it, “I’ve taken the anti-tax pledge. Taxes have gone up 30% in Ocean County since [Kelly] has been in county office and he has voted to raise them.”

As vice president of Lockheed Marietta, Cornell graduate Myers works for the largest employer in the 3rd District and is an expert on missile defense who did his thesis on the need for such a program. (“Just try to get that through Cornell!”). In a district that is home to McGuire Air Force Base, Fort Dix, and Lakehurst Naval Air Station (famed as the site of the Hindenburg zeppelin crash in 1937), Myers noted, being a veteran conversant on national security issues is a major asset.

Whoever wins the GOP nod is sure to have an unusually tough time in November against Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Adler of Camden, a close ally of far-left Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.


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