Female war hero leads new wave of veteran candidates fox 61

Hegar served in the US Air Force and is one of many veterans running as Democrats in the 2018 midterms. She’s part of a broader strategy Democrats have used — recruit decorated veterans with compelling biographies to reach disillusioned moderates. And these days, in this year of record numbers of female candidates running for Congress, many of them are battle-tested women.

“We worked tirelessly to recruit a historic number of candidates with records of service, including female veterans,” says Molly Mitchell, the Director of Media Affairs for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of Democrats in the House of Representatives. “These candidates have powerful personal stories and strong independent profiles that excite the grassroots base and prevent Republicans from successfully putting our candidates into ideological boxes.

The DCCC knew that voters would flock to the stabilizing influences of veteran candidates.”

That deliberate recruitment is reflected in the current party affiliation of veteran candidates still in the running for national office. And it’s also a shift in what those veteran candidates look like. Current numbers in Congress show 65% of lawmakers who are veterans are Republicans, the vast majority of them male, says Rye Barcott, CEO and co-founder of With Honor, a super PAC formed to elect more veterans to office, regardless of party affiliation. Congressional candidates still in the running are now equal in party division, says Barcott, reflecting a surge in Democratic veterans, especially among women with compelling stories.

“The candidates who are advancing and who we find are most successful this year, the quality they share is that they’re authentic,” Barcott says. “They haven’t been overly coached by the DC political establishment because they’re outside of it. There’s a hunger for outsiders by voters. Candidates who are true to themselves, speak truth to power and can serve with civility, courage, integrity.”

Hegar faces headwinds trying to flip a strong Republican district. But she became the darling of Democrats when she sprung into the national spotlight with a campaign video titled “Doors.”The more than three-minute video introduces Hegar, a retired major and pilot in the Air National Guard, and reveals her compelling biography — from three tours of duty piloting a rescue helicopter, how that chopper went down and how, even injured, she shot at the Taliban as she herself was rescued.

“To this day, I’ve never met John Carter,” says Hegar, who adds that as a former Republican, she voted for Carter, a 15-year incumbent. Absent to her then, Hegar says today, Carter remains absent to constituents in her district. “The Republican leadership has gone off the frickin’ rails. And the things that the Republican Party stands for now are not representative of the values of the people in this district who voted Republican. I’m connected to this district, I understand the values of this district, I represent the values of this district, because I am this district.”

Mikie Sherrill is right in that “coming of age” group. Sherrill is the Democrat running in the open seat in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District. The district has been a safe-Republican seat for generations, but Sherrill is poised to flip the seat for Democrats. She’s in that position because she jumped into the congressional race early, cleared the field with early endorsements and strong fundraising.

The mother of four and former federal prosecutor also relies heavily on her Navy combat pilot biography to open the door to moderates in her district, especially as a first time candidate. The graduate of the US Naval Academy spent 10 years on active duty with the Navy, flying a Sea King helicopter through Europe and the Middle East. She was a Russian policy officer and worked on the implementation of US nuclear treaty obligations.

Her military background allows her to walk seamlessly through a Hispanic street festival to a middle class political fundraiser. “A lot of people serving today are members of the Hispanic community,” says Sherrill, on a day she posed for pictures with Colombian dancers and Costa Rican immigrants. “I think they look at myself and a lot of the veterans running who have served before have always put the country first so they expect us to do that in Washington.”

Both Sherrill and Hegar are endorsed by Serve America, the Democratic PAC founded by Congressman Seth Moulton. Moulton, who served as a Marine officer in Iraq, has raised nearly $3 million to help elect veterans for Congress, state and local races, who often lack the funds to run for office because they’re busy serving their country. Moulton made waves in his first run for Congress, running against a Democratic incumbent. Then in office, he again bucked the Democratic establishment by calling for a new generation of leadership, saying the party leadership was “out of touch.”

That kind of independence from the party is exactly what Washington needs, says Moulton as he points to former Marine pilot Amy McGrath, the Democrat running in Kentucky’s 6th district. “Candidates like Amy are running against the establishment,” says Moulton, whose PAC has endorsed McGrath. “They’re rebelling, putting country over party and it is resonating. At the end of the day, members of the military set aside differences for the country. That’s what Americans should expect from Congress as well. We represent different districts, but we ought to be able to find common ground.”