In an election night that proved to be an unexpected nail-biter for the presidential race, a number of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars found their own paths to victory.
Some half-dozen fresh-faced veterans won seats in the House of Representatives by the wee hours of Wednesday morning as more remained locked in races too close to call.
One congresswoman, Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who served honorably as an Army officer in Iraq, made a successful bid for a Senate seat. And in one of the most closely contested races, Eric Greitens, a decorated former Navy SEAL who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, won his election for governor of Missouri as a Republican against Democrat Chris Koster, the former State attorney general.
Tuesday’s election underscored a growing trend of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan parlaying their military leadership skills in bids for national elected office. More than 30 veterans of the two wars ran for House Seats they had not held before.
For Greitens, who has never previously held elected office, the path to election included some controversy. He took some heat for posting provocative imagery in support of the Second Amendment and drew eyes to his race with campaign ads featuring an automatic rifle and a machine gun. But he also has a distinguished resume as a former Rhodes Scholar and White House Fellow who is also the founder of The Mission Continues, an organization supporting veterans.
The 42-year-old led his race with 52 percent to Koster’s 45 percent with 90 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning.
For Duckworth, her bid against incumbent Mark Kirk may have been boosted by an ugly exchange at a debate late in October. Kirk, himself a Navy veteran of the war in Afghanistan, attacked Duckworth, who is half-Thai, for calling herself a “daughter of the Revolution,” telling her, “I forgot that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.” He later apologized for the remark after Duckworth posted a photo of her mother and her American father, also an Army veteran.
Duckworth, a former helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq, will be the second female Iraq veteran in the Senate, joining Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa.
And among many stories of heroism among military veterans making bids for Congress this year, the most inspiring story may be that of Brian Mast, a medically retired Army staff sergeant who lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan and first considered running for an elected office while recovering in a hospital bed at Walter Reed, according to an Army Times profile. An explosive ordnance disposal specialist, Mast earned his bachelor’s degree after he was wounded, taking classes at Harvard University.
A Republican, Mast won the seat left open by Rep. Patrick Murphy, who made a Senate run, with 54 percent of the vote to Democratic challenger Randy Perkins’ 43 percent.
Other veterans heading to Congress for the first time include Republican Scott Taylor, a another former Navy SEAL and veteran of the Iraq War who will fill the Virginia Beach seat left open by retiring Rep. Scott Rigell, and Democrat Jimmy Panetta, a Navy veteran of Afghanistan who is the son of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and defeated Republican Casey Lucius in California.
Anthony Brown, a Democrat from Maryland who formerly served as lieutenant governor, and who served a tour in Iraq as an Army judge advocate, won a House seat vacated by Rep. Donna Edwards in a landslide. Republican Jim Banks, a former Navy officer who served in Afghanistan, and Republican Mike Gallagher, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, won seats in Indiana and Wisconsin, respectively.
Some 14 veteran incumbents kept their seats, including defense leaders Duncan Hunter, a Republican of California, Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, and Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona.
Many other high-profile races remained too close to call early Wednesday morning. These included some of the most-watched contests, including Republican and Reserve Marine Col. Doug Applegate’s bid to challenge incumbent Darrell Issa in California. In late returns, Democrat Jason Kander, an Army officer who served in Afghanistan, lost his bid to unseat Republican incumbent Roy Blunt for Senate in Missouri.