Democrats won the House four years ago thanks to a rally of candidates who were veterans or had national security experience. This profile seemed to appeal to swing voters. GOP strategists are well aware that they narrowly missed the majority of the House of Representatives in 2020, partly due to recruiting errors in key districts. And they are determined to compile a list of candidates who can fill the five-seat gap and secure control of the chamber.
“We have a built-in advantage. I think if you look at the polls, roughly two-thirds of our veterans are Republicans,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), A retired Air Force general working on getting more candidates recruiting from the military. “The Democrats were also smart at emphasizing this area. The fact is, it’s the most trustworthy institution in America.”
Jen Kiggans, a retired Navy pilot who now serves as Virginia The state senator and nurse is expected to officially start a run against Democratic MP Elaine Luria in the Tidewater area next week. Harold Earls IV, a retired army captain who climbed the mountain. Everest and was leading the elite unit guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery a run in suburban Atlanta. And in the Orlando area, Cory Mills, an Army Bronze Star recipient who survived two bombings in the Middle East, is already taking on Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.
Even more consider campaigns. Zach Nunn, a state senator who has flown 700 hours of aerial combat in the Air Force, could challenge Democratic MP Cindy Axne in Iowa. Nick De Gregorio, who became a veteran attorney after nine years with the Marines, contemplates running in northern New Jersey. Another Marine veteran, Oceanside City Council member Christopher Rodriguez, might be walking in Southern California. And Rep. Chris Croft, a retired Colonel who served 30 years in the Army, is considering challenging Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids in Kansas.
Last cycle recruitment was dampened by the 2018 escape when the Democrats moved 43 seats, including some deep red boroughs, thanks to Donald Trump’s aversion to the suburbs. It has deterred some GOP candidates from running two years later in 2020 when Trump himself would vote.
But the combination of a better-than-expected cycle for 2020 and the promise of new and perhaps cheaper district lines is luring potential candidates out earlier than usual. Now that the majority is within reach, recruiters hope veterans can back the party’s calling, not necessarily with defense or foreign policy credentials, but with their service history and a desire to break the deadlock in Washington.
Colin Schmitt, a Republican MP for New York State and National Guard for the Army, said his time delivering critical supplies to his state’s frontline workers during the pandemic inspired him to start a Hudson Valley congressional run in a district which also owns the US Military Academy Western Point.
“I saw this firsthand when I walked in and could be a sign of relief,” he said of his Covid-related missions. “That is certainly a motivator for service. It seems that every day there is more party political divide, more bitterness. Look, we have to go beyond that. “
Schmitt said he hoped to compare his time in the National Guard to what he called his opponent’s bipartisanism: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Democratic Congress electoral committee.
Although Covid makes limited trips to Capitol Hill, recruiters from the NRCC and outside groups describe strong early interest among potential candidates. According to the NRCC, 340 candidates have already applied for 284 districts. While many of these candidates are not high-level or winnable districts, committee officials compare that to 2010 – the last time they retook the house. At the time, only 165 candidates had registered.
And recruiters say they like the variety of candidates who applied by the end of March: 78 women, 59 color candidates, and 78 veterans.
The number of veterans in Congress is at an all time low; it has generally been in decline since the end of the Vietnam War. But Democrats said they found out that candidates with a background in national security were inspired to run in 2018 after Trump was elected. Of the 43 Democrats who won GOP-held seats that year, a dozen were either veterans or with significant national security experience.
Now some GOP recruits have said they found similar recruits after the January 6th riots in the Capitol.
“That scared them. And they want to put the country back in order,” said Sarah Chamberlain, the president of the Republican Main Street Partnership. When looking for 2022 candidates, she said veterans would be self-recruiting. “These men – and women – fought in battle. And now they’re saying, “Look, it’s time to serve here because we don’t want the Capitol to be fenced off and isolated from the people of this land.”
The Democrats, for their part, mocked the idea that post-insurrection veterans could successfully run for Republicans in Congress – an attack instigated by Trump, the party’s current standard-bearer.
“You can serve this country and still be against America. Just ask Robert E. Lee,” said Jon Soltz, founder of VoteVets, a liberal group that supports candidates who have served in the military.
And he suggested that any candidates who vigorously opposed Jan. 6 would have difficulty getting the nomination, quoting the freshman Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), Referring to his time in the Army backed to win a tough seat on the battlefield in 2020, but that was already under political attack after he voted for Trump’s impeachment.
“It’s just so far-fetched for me to believe that they could run Peter Meijers in all of these battlefield districts that voters would appeal to at a time when Peter Meijer is likely to lose an elementary school,” Soltz said.
About a dozen veteran Republican candidates took top swing seats in the last cycle. Only a handful have won, but GOP leaders urge many who came close to try again in the medium term in what may be a more favorable environment.
Republican recruiters are hoping at least a half-dozen of their veteran candidates will re-run for 2020, particularly in states earning 2022 congressional seats, including Alek Skarlatos, a former Army National Guard in Oregon, Wesley Hunt, an Army helicopter pilot in Texas and Anna Paulina Luna, an Air Force veteran living on the west coast of Florida.
In the Midwest, Esther Joy King, an army reservist who held a tough 2020 challenge against then-DCCC chairman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill), is already preparing for another run. And the GOP leaders are hoping Navy veteran Tyler Kistner will go for a rematch with Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.). Former Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden started a second run this week against Ron Kind (D-Wis.).
The NRCC has selected Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) As its Chair of Recruiting for 2022. First elected in 2018, Miller was the only woman in the GOP freshman class that year, compared to about three dozen new Democratic women – an inequality that motivated other Republican congressional women and party officials to redouble their efforts.
Two years later, Republican women dominated swing districts, leaving Trump well behind. Their number in Congress rose from 13 to 31 in a cycle, a dynamic that they are keen to maintain.
“People have realized how big a Republican Party tent is,” Miller said in an interview. “And I think their eyes have been opened in the last few years and we have dynamic people. There is no stereotype. “
In the 2020 cycle, Republicans were plagued by recruitment flops in key seats, including those from representatives Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) And Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.). Even so, they came painfully close to regaining the house. And the party leaders are determined this year to bring every seat into play.
And while they bet that veteran candidates will help them create a vast battlefield, the Republicans in the House don’t have the same infrastructure as the Democrats who started VoteVets in 2006 to help candidates for the Iraq war. (The group with honor does Support from veterans of both parties.)
Republicans hope to change that this cycle. Bacon said he offered his services to find strong military candidates, and says The party recognizes its worth.
“I find that most veterans, whether they are elected Republicans or Democrats, are more inclined to work across the gang,” he said. “What we have in Congress right now is a malfunction. You have people who demand 100 percent. You’re not even ready to take 90 percent. “