In 2006, Patrick Murphy became the first veteran of America’s 21st Century military conflicts to be elected to Congress.[1] The next two elections, 2008 and 2010, featured at least thirty-six additional veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan as major party, non-incumbent candidates.[2] Twenty veterans ran in each of those elections, four of whom were nominees in both contests.[3] Nine won their bids for national office. This essay examines the military and personal attributes of the candidates, the political situations they faced, and the results of the two elections.

Seventy-two percent of the candidates were deployed in Iraq, 8% in Afghanistan, and almost 20% in both countries. Nineteen of the candidates, slightly more than half, served in the Army (14) and the Army National Guard (5).  Both the Marine Corp and the Navy were represented by seven nominees each. Three came from the Air Force and Air National Guard.  That most candidates had an Army background is not surprising in that it is the largest service overall and provided the bulk of the personnel in both conflicts.

Thirty of the thirty-six candidates were officers ranging in rank from 2nd Lieutenants to Colonels (or the equivalent naval ranks). Twenty of those thirty (or 56% of all candidates) were field grade officers – a group which includes Majors and Lt. Commanders through Colonels and Navy Captains.  The other ten were junior officers.  The six remaining candidates were enlisted personnel, four of whom were sergeants.  One of the sergeants, Steve Sarvi, left the Army as a captain but subsequently joined the National Guard as an NCO and served in Iraq in that capacity.

More than two thirds of the nominees had never held public office.  This attribute was particularly true of the former Marine and Navy nominees who sought a Congressional position as their first office.  Only in the case of the five members of the Army National Guard did previous office-holders outnumber novices.

Given the conventional wisdom as to the conservatism of military personnel, I expected to find a significant majority of Republicans among the candidates. Instead they accounted for just under 60% of the nominees. Again, the five Army National Guard members proved to be the exception; four were Democrats.

All but one of the veterans sought seats in the House of Representatives; the exception was Rick Noriega, who lost a Texas senatorial election in 2008.  The candidates ran from twenty-two states. New York had the largest number, with four, followed by California and Pennsylvania, with three each.  Most of the candidates faced difficult political situations in that they opposed incumbents. Fourteen of the 2008 races and fifteen of those in 2010 involved challenges to incumbent members of Congress.

Most of the veterans lost their elections; only nine, or a fourth, succeeded in their bids to enter Congress. Three, one Democrat and two Republicans won their races in 2008.  John Boccieri, the lone Democrat and a former Air Force Major, took the seat in Ohio’s 16th district.  Marine Major Mike Coffman prevailed in Colorado’s 6th district.  The contest in the 52nd district of California proved to be the most interesting in two respects.  First, this was the only instance of two veterans running against each other. Marine Captain Duncan Hunter, a Republican, defeated Navy Commander Michael Lumpkin, a Democrat. Second, Hunter replaced his father who had held the seat for twenty-seven years and was the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.  The only woman to run in either election, Army Colonel Jill Morganthaler, lost in Illinois.

The 2010 ballot included twenty-three of the thirty-six veterans in this analysis. In addition to the twenty non-incumbents the three elected in 2008 sought re-election. Six of the non-incumbents won as did two of those already a member of Congress (Coffman and Hunter). John Boccieri, the lone Democrat to win in one of the two most recent elections, lost his seat.  The newly elected congressmen, all Republicans, include Chris Gibson (NY, 20th district), Tim Griffin (AR, 2nd), Joe Heck (NV, 3rd), Adam Kinzinger (IL, 11th), Steve Stivers (OH, 15th), and Allen West (FL, 22nd).

In the course of the two elections veterans were elected from eight states and represented all the services except the Navy, whose seven candidates lost. Republican candidates were notably more successful that Democrats; eight of the twenty-one Republicans won in contrast to only one of fifteen Democrats.  Having held office before running for Congress was a key to winning; two thirds of those elected had some previous political experience. Only 12% of the political novices won in contrast to 56% of those who were not new to public office.

In 2008, the three winners took open seats, whereas in 2010 five of the six successful candidates ousted incumbent Democrats.  The 2010 winners were obviously a part of the Republican sweep in that election.  Perhaps even more important, the Tea Party endorsed ten of the military veterans running in 2010 and six of them won.[4] Five of those winners received at least 54% of the votes in their districts,

When the new Congress convenes in early 2011, eight of the 36 candidates will be sworn in. Six of them will be freshman members and two will begin their second term.  Two predictions seem relatively safe.  First, those six freshman members will be particularly vulnerable in the 2012 election. This is usually the case when a party wins an overwhelming congressional victory; the most junior are the first to go in the next election.  Second, a larger number of veterans of these two conflicts will run for Congress in 2012.  More than two million members of the armed services have been activated for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan,[5] and that number will grow in the next two years. Many veterans already hold office at the state and local level, some of whom will be ready to try to move up the political ladder while others will make their first foray into the political arena.


[1] Murphy, a Democrat, was re-elected in 2008 but lost in 2010.

[2] No standard, accurate list of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking congressional and senatorial seats exists for either of the two elections under consideration.  I compiled my data set of thirty-six candidates from a wide variety of sources. In addition, there is no agreement as to what constitutes being a veteran of these two conflicts. Many were activated but not all served in Iraq or Afghanistan; some served in valuable support capacities elsewhere but are not included in this analysis. I am reasonably certain that my list is accurate, but my apologies if I have missed a veteran who should have been included.

[3] Doug Heckman and Rob Miller lost both elections. Steve Stivers and Allen West lost in 2008 but won in 2010.

[4] “Which Tea Party Candidates Won?” Web: 5 November, 2010.

[5] Contingency Tracking System Deployment File Baseline Report. Defense Manpower Data Center. 30 September 2010.