From left: Mikie Sherrill (D), candidate in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District; Amy McGrath (D), candidate in Kentucky’s 6th District; Gina Ortiz Jones (D), candidate in Texas’s 23rd District; Elaine Luria (D), candidate in Virginia’s 2nd District; and Martha McSally (R), running for Senate from Arizona. (Mary Altaffer/AP/Alex Wong/Getty Images/Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images/Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/U.S. Air Force/Foreign Policy illustration)
From left: Mikie Sherrill (D), candidate in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District; Amy McGrath (D), candidate in Kentucky’s 6th District; Gina Ortiz Jones (D), candidate in Texas’s 23rd District; Elaine Luria (D), candidate in Virginia’s 2nd District; and Martha McSally (R), running for Senate from Arizona. (Mary Altaffer/AP/Alex Wong/Getty Images/Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images/Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/U.S. Air Force/Foreign Policy illustration)

2018 U.S. Midterm Elections

The Surge Comes to Washington

A new generation of military veterans is poised to sweep Congress.

The U.S. Congress could see the largest influx of military veterans in decades as a new generation of service members, many of them women, seeks higher office in elections on Tuesday.

More than 170 veterans are competing in congressional races across the country. In 28 of those races, former servicemembers have a realistic chance of winning and in another seven of the contests, veterans are strongly favored to win, according to Foreign Policy’s analysis of data provided by Military Times and the Cook Political Report.

For the first time, many of the most high-profile veteran candidates are women. Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a 46-year-old former federal prosecutor and mother of four who served as a helicopter pilot in the Navy, is running in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District, which has not sent a Democrat to Congress since 1985. In Kentucky’s 6th District, Amy McGrath, the first female Marine to fly an F/A-18 fighter jet in combat, wasn’t even favored to win the primary, but her first political ad went viral online. Meanwhile, Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally, a former Air Force pilot who has championed veterans’ issues and helped save the beloved A-10 Warthog attack jet from the boneyard, is vying for a Senate seat.

So why are so many veterans running in this election? Jeremy Teigen, a political scientist at Ramapo College of New Jersey who wrote the book Why Veterans Run, believes both parties made more of a concerted effort in this cycle to recruit veteran candidates in races where they had a shot at winning, perhaps as an antidote to President Donald Trump. He pointed to the Serve America PAC of Rep. Seth Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran, as a critical source of cash and influence for many former service members.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona, agreed that Trump’s 2016 election and his foreign policy, particularly his coziness with Russian President Vladimir Putin, motivated many veterans to run for office.

“As a man who used medical and educational deferments to avoid military service [and] said misogynistic things about women … what better force to try to retake the House but women [vets]?” Teigen said.


Close Races Featuring Veteran Candidates

Leans Republican

Leans Democrat

Toss-up

Alaska At-Large District Don Young (R), incumbent Army, 1950s
Arizona Senate Martha McSally (R), challenger Air Force, 1980s-2010s
California 10th District Jeff Denham (R), incumbent Air Force, 1980s-2000s
California 25th District Stephen Knight (R), incumbent Army, 1980s-1990s
California 39th District Gil Cisneros (D), challenger Navy, 1990s-2000s
California 50th District Duncan Hunter (R), incumbent Marine Corps, 2000s-2010s
Colorado 6th District Jason Crow (D), challenger Army, 1990s-2000s
Colorado 6th District Mike Coffman (R), incumbent Army, 1970s; Marine Corps, 1970s-1990s, 2000s
Florida 6th District Michael Waltz (R), challenger Army, 1990s-2010s
Florida 16th District Vern Buchanan (R), incumbent Air Force, 1970s
Florida 18th District Brian Mast (R), incumbent Army, 2000s-2010s
Florida Senate Bill Nelson (D), incumbent Army, 1960s-1970s
Florida Senate Rick Scott (R), challenger Navy, 1970s
Illinois 12th District Brendan Kelly (D), challenger Navy, 2000s
Illinois 12th District Mike Bost (R), incumbent Marine Corps, 1970s-1980s
Kansas 2nd District Steve Watkins (R), challenger Army, 2000s-2010s
Kentucky 6th District Amy McGrath (D), challenger Marine Corps, 1990s-2010s
Maine 2nd District Jared Golden (D), challenger Marine Corps, 2000s
Minnesota 1st District Dan Feehan (D), challenger Army, 2000s
Nebraska 2nd District Don Bacon (R), incumbent Air Force, 1980s-2010s
New Jersey 11th District Mikie Sherrill (D), challenger Navy, 1990s-2000s
New York 11th District Max Rose (D), challenger Army, 2010s
North Carolina 9th District Dan McCready (D), challenger Marine Corps, 2000s
Pennsylvania 10th District George Scott (D), challenger Army, 1990s-2000s
Pennsylvania 16th District Ron DiNicola (D), challenger Marine Corps, 1970s
Texas 22nd District Pete Olson (R), incumbent Navy, 1980s-2000s
Texas 23rd District Gina Ortiz Jones (D), challenger Air Force, 2000s
Virginia 2nd District Elaine Luria (D), challenger Navy, 1990s-2010s
Virginia 2nd District Scott Taylor (R), incumbent Navy, 1990s-2000s
Virginia 5th District Denver Riggleman (R), challenger Air Force, 1990s-2000s
West Virginia 3rd District Richard Ojeda (D), challenger Army, 1980s-2010s
Wisconsin 1st District Randy Bryce (D), challenger Army, 1980s

 


Races in Which Veterans Are Expected to Win

Solid Republican

Likely Republican

Solid Democrat

Likely Democrat

Delaware Senate Tom Carper (D), incumbent Navy, 1960s-1990s
Mississippi Senate Roger Wicker (R), incumbent Air Force, 1970s-2000s
Minnesota 7th District Collin Peterson (D), incumbent Army, 1960s
Oklahoma 5th District Steve Russell (R), incumbent Army, 1980s-2000s
Pennsylvania 6th District Chrissy Houlahan (D), challenger Air Force, 1980s-2000s
Pennsylvania 14th District Guy Reschenthaler (R), challenger Navy, 2000s-2010s
Texas 2nd District Daniel Crenshaw (R), challenger Navy, 2000s-2010s

Sources: The Cook Political Report and Military Times

Lara Seligman is Foreign Policy's Pentagon correspondent. @laraseligman