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Number of veterans serving in Congress could slightly decrease after election

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 4, 2020

WASHINGTON — Less than half of the 182 veterans running for Congress in Tuesday’s election were declared winners in their races by Wednesday morning — incomplete results that appear likely to mean the overall number of veterans in Congress would keep steady or slightly decrease.  

Fifty-three veterans ran as Democrats for House seats and 110 ran as Republicans. In the Senate, 19 veterans ran in 17 races — including some of the tightest races of the night.  

Veterans Campaign, a nonpartisan group that assists veterans running for office, predicted before Election Day that there could be a slight decline of veterans in Congress this year because some did not run for reelection and others faced tough competition. The organization predicted a turnaround in future years, as more post-9/11 veterans run for office.  

As of Wednesday morning, 73 veterans had won their races, and 84 were projected to lose, according to election tracking from Military Times. The results of nearly 30 races involving veterans remained unknown.  

In the Senate, most of the 35 total seats up for election had decided outcomes as of Wednesday morning, with nine veterans declared winners and six veterans losing their races.  

In Arizona, Democratic newcomer Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and Navy aviator, defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Meanwhile in Iowa, Republican incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iraq War veteran and the first female combat veteran in the Senate, won a close race against Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held off Democratic challenger Amy McGrath to win reelection in Kentucky. McConnell enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve during the Vietnam War but was deemed medically unfit for military service. McGrath, a former fighter pilot, was the first woman to fly a combat mission for the Marine Corps.  

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, an Air Force veteran, won reelection in South Carolina against a strong challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison. 

The outcome of two tight races involving veteran candidates remained uncertain early Wednesday. In North Carolina, Cal Cunningham, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, is challenging Republican incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis. Tillis is not a veteran but is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Tillis declared victory Tuesday night even though the race remained too close to call as of Wednesday morning.  

The Associated Press had also not called the Alaska Senate race, in which Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Marine Corps veteran, was fighting to keep his seat against independent candidate Al Gross.  

Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas, won the seat to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts. Marshall, a former member of the Army Reserve, beat Democratic challenger Barbara Bollier.  

Incumbent senators Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., all veterans, easily won their reelection campaigns. Inhofe and Reed lead the Senate Armed Services Committee.  

Democrat Adrian Perkins, a former Army captain, lost his fight in Louisiana to unseat Republican incumbent Bill Cassidy. Likewise, Republican Daniel Gade, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, lost his race in Virginia against Democratic incumbent Mark Warner.  

Several veterans who are new to politics won seats in the House on Tuesday, including Ronny Jackson, a retired Navy rear admiral who served as President Donald Trump’s physician. Jackson won a Texas seat, replacing Mac Thornberry, who retired from Congress. Trump nominated Jackson as Department of Veterans Affairs secretary in 2018, but he withdrew from consideration after allegations arose about him drinking on the job.  

Wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling