As if there weren’t already plenty of great reasons to serve in the military (see the world, spread democracy, eat free at Applebee’s), we can now add “get elected” to the list. A stint in the armed forces is the “single best-testing trait” for congressional candidates, according to recent poll of likely voters by a veteran’s super PAC. And and voters from both parties view those who served in a positive light.
Can you feel the love?
With Honor, a “cross-partisan” PAC helping veterans get elected to Congress (not to be confused with With Honors, starring Joe Pesci as a homeless dude), released its findings Thursday in advance of primaries across the country. The poll is one of the first showing how veteran status cuts through today’s frenzied partisan political environment.
Ellen Zeng, With Honor’s political director, said the poll helps explain how Democrat Connor Lamb, a Marine Corps veteran, won a special election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district earlier this year. The race between Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone over a district that President Trump won easily by percentage points came down to 755 votes.
“That district was very red,” Zeng said. “I think the reason he won was in a large part because he was a veteran. It does show veterans by in large have a great profile. The public gives them a certain amount of trust.”
One particularly striking finding is that significant numbers of voters on both sides of the spectrum (29% of Democrats and 32% of Republicans) are willing to forgo party affiliation to cast a vote for a veteran. And four out of five voters from both parties think veterans have the “attitudes and maturity” needed in Congress. The poll found veterans are viewed as mission-oriented coalition builders who can work across the aisle.
"Veterans started their careers with only one thing in mind: service to the American people,” said Dan Crenshaw, a Navy veteran running for the Republican nomination in Texas’ 2nd District. “Congress could use that kind of service-before-self sprit. This resonates with Americans.”
There are more than 300 veterans running for Congress, according to Zeng. With Honor is endorsing 19 candidates — eight Republicans, including Crenshaw, and eleven Democrats — running for Congress across the country. The candidates come from the four main branches of the military and each signed a pledge to “lead with integrity, civility, and courage, including the courage to meet with someone from another party at least once each month and to sponsor legislation with a member of another party at least once every year.”
But not all veterans view the findings as good news. Democrat candidate Jonathan Ebel, a Navy veteran turned University of Illinois professor, who also won With Honor’s endorsement, said the data promotes the myth that simply electing more service members is the key to solving the nation’s problems.
“Certainly, soldiers can help,” said Ebel, who lost his April primary. “What we really need is a bunch of other people from other walks of life — teachers, social workers — to diversify Congress.”
The national poll of 753 likely voters was conducted online between March 30 and April 4, 2018, and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.
For her, the message is clear.
“Americans want leaders will get things done,” Zeng said. “I think folks get the sense are serving again. It’s mission first.”
Any veteran looking to make the leap into elective politics might want to mark his or her calendar. Filing deadlines for the 2020 race will he here before you know it.
Kevin Maurer is the coauthor of No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden and American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent, among other books.