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WASHINGTON — Democrats unveiled plans Wednesday for a new focus on military issues and national security in this year’s congressional races, highlighted by a slate of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans running for office as Democrats.

Officials with the party’s national committee said the move will help show voters that Democrats are more qualified to respond to the needs of troops and their families. But Republican leaders dismissed the announcement as simply an election-year stunt.

The Democratic National Committee has thrown their support behind 27 new congressional candidates with military backgrounds, including five who have served in Iraq within the past three years. Another 20 Democratic candidates with military experience are in primary battles over the next few months, and thus cannot be backed at present.

Committee chairman Howard Dean said the military candidates bring an inside view on issues such as health benefits costs, body armor funding and military pay raises.

“They will do a better job defending troops while (the troops) are defending America,” he said.

The party is also expanding its national veterans and military families council, an effort to reach out to troops and their families to show Democrats’ national security credentials.

Josh Holmes, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said his group hasn’t planned a similar effort because, “this is not a new coalition for us; We’ve always been focused on the military.”

He could not provide numbers on how many new candidates with military experience will campaign with GOP support this year, but said he expects the number of veterans running as Democrats and Republicans to be comparable in November.

So far the national committee is supporting only one candidate who served in Iraq in recent years: Van Taylor, a Marine Reserves major campaigning against Texas Rep. Chet Edwards.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 now involved with the new slate of Congressional hopefuls, said while the candidates’ military credentials are important he doesn’t see them as single-issue figureheads.

“They’ve got a lot of life experience,” he said. “They bring a wide range of perspectives into these campaigns.”

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