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Tim Walz, a teacher and National Guardsman activated for Operation Enduring Freedom, has also gotten plenty of media attention and campaigning from high levels of the party, but is still down in the polls against Republican Gil Gutknecht. The speculation had been that Gutknecht would suffer from Iraq and other incumbent woes in a district which President Bush won by a slim 51-47 margin in 2004, but not much hard evidence has surfaced publicly to confirm that. Advantage Gutknecht, if only slightly.
Speculation that entrepreneur and former Marine Corps reservist Jack Davis in New York could win began mounting last month, but only because his opponent is Tom Reynolds, who some thought would be torpedoed by Foleygate. Reynolds has rebounded and has been shifted by most election-watchers back into the “Leans Republican” field.
FIGURING THAT FAVORITES Sestak and Carney win, that two of the three tossups Webb, Duckworth, and Lucas win and that one of the “Leans Republican” seats falls to Democrats, that would mean six new Democratic military vets in the House. That’s not nothing. But there are already 40 Democratic military veterans in the House (as compared to 69 Republicans). In a time of war, a time when military resumes are clearly an asset for Democrats, and after a campaign season of “Democratic vets take on Republican civilians” hype, it’s a small increase.
For a sense of what a real recent “veteran’s offensive” looks like, consider the Republican class of 1994, when the GOP actively recruited military vets as part of that year’s assault on Democratic congressional control. Counting governors, 34 military veterans on the GOP ticket were elected that year, including two Gulf War vets and future party stars like George W. Bush, Tom Ridge, Tom Davis, and Lindsay Graham. Of course, the media didn’t tout this “offensive” to anywhere near the extent it did this year’s Democrats.
Theoretically, the Democrats could end up with something to mirror that class of veterans today. But only if just about every election observer has called things poorly.
Why were these candidates touted so relentlessly? A few possibilities: It made great sense for Democrats seeking to look better on national security to tout a rising generation of military men in their ranks. It also made sense for the media, which sensed a counterintuitive trend. It made sense that a protracted and unpopular war might provoke some echo of the backlash against Vietnam, even discounting for the mitigating effect of the all-volunteer force. And it probably made sense to disaffected swing voters who are displeased with the war and Republicans but are scared off by people like Al Gore and Howard Dean.
Late tonight or tomorrow we’ll know for certain whether the wave of “Fightin’ Dems” this year was mostly hype, which, at this point, certainly feels like the case.