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WASHINGTON — Hiram Lewis IV plans on making the war in Iraq a major issue in his campaign to unseat Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

But when he speaks about the conflict overseas, he’ll speak from personal experience. The West Virginia National Guardsman spent 11 months in Kuwait with the 111th Engineer Group, and went to Baghdad several times to deal with legal issues surrounding detainees.

He’s among a number of war on terror veterans with political aspirations. At least eight Congressional races next year will feature retired servicemembers or reserve troops who spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and believe that their time in service has given them a unique perspective on public office.

That’s a view that many senators and representatives today lack. Only about 40 percent of lawmakers in Congress have served in the armed forces, well below the 70 percent of veterans in the post-WWII Congress of the 1950s.

Lewis, 34, said he entered the political arena in part because he was upset by public comments by Byrd, opposing the war in Iraq but supporting the troops. He said that sends a conflicted message to those fighting overseas.

He hasn’t picked up the backing of the Republican Party, but has raised about $350,000 for his campaign so far.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Paul Hackett, a 42-year-old retired Marine major, lost a bid to become the first Iraq war veteran in Congress when Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, defeated him in a special election in August.

He spent eight months with the 4th Civil Affairs team stationed near Ramadi, and participated in several combat missions as well. His campaign included frequent scathing remarks about President Bush, but spent more time on Ohio’s economy than the war on terror.

Thanks to his good showing in the August election, he received backing from Democratic leaders to challenge Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, in next year’s elections.

Patrick Murphy, who was deployed to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division, announced in May he would challenge Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., as a Democrat.

“Some guys don’t think it’s time to question our government, but the fact is I love my country,” Murphy told The Associated Press. “We need to have an exit strategy now.”

So far the only officially sanctioned candidate on the Republican side with war on terror credentials is Marine Reserve Maj. Van Taylor, who was deployed to Iraq with the 4th Reconnaissance Battalion. He’s among several GOP hopefuls looking to unseat Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas.

“The war on terror is going to be with us for a long time, and Congress is going to grapple with the war on terror,” Taylor told The Associated Press this week. “We need policy-makers who know what it means to make war.”

Other war on terror veteran candidates include:

Tim Waltz, a 41-year-old retired command sergeant major who was deployed with the Minnesota Army National Guard in Italy to support military policy operations for troops in Afghanistan. The Democrat has begun a campaign to unseat incumbent Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn.David Ashe, 37, who retired from the Marines shortly before Sept. 11, 2001, only to be recalled to active duty a few weeks after the terrorist attacks. The JAG officer was deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, and is now campaigning against first-term Rep. Thelma Drake, R-Va.Bryan Lentz, a 41-year-old retired Army Reserve major who volunteered to go to Iraq in 2003 with a civil affairs unit. He has filed paperwork in the race against Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., a 10-term Congressman and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.Tim Dunn, 45, a Democrat, trial lawyer and military veteran from Fayetteville, N.C., who served recently in Iraq, announced his intention in August to challenge four-term Republican U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes for his seat in Congress. Dunn is a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.For Lewis, who still is an active guardsman, his military service comes before his political dreams. His unit was sent to Louisiana for hurricane relief duties, and his campaign activities will be stalled until at least next month.

“We could be down here until January, from what we’re hearing,” he said. “But that’s OK. I have a good campaign staff, and we’ll deal with it.

“And I think it speaks highly of my candidacy. It’s a testimony to how important I think service is.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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