Wave of Women and Younger Vets Head to Capitol Hill

People who served after the 9/11 attacks will make up more than half of the veterans on Capitol Hill come January.

Democratic candidate Elaine Luria speaks to a room full of supporters after upsetting incumbent Republican Scott Taylor to win Virginia's 2nd Congressional District in Virginia Beach on Nov. 6. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
Democratic candidate Elaine Luria speaks to a room full of supporters after upsetting incumbent Republican Scott Taylor to win Virginia's 2nd Congressional District in Virginia Beach on Nov. 6. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
Democratic candidate Elaine Luria speaks to a room full of supporters after upsetting incumbent Republican Scott Taylor to win Virginia's 2nd Congressional District in Virginia Beach on Nov. 6. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

Female and younger ex-service members made a good showing in the U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday although the overall number of vets who will show up for work on Capitol Hill in January will be lower than it was after the elections two years ago.

In a hotly contested election that saw Democrats flip the House and Republicans solidify their hold on the Senate, 77 military veterans won races around the country, according to data compiled by Military Times. Fifteen incumbent veterans in the Senate did not face elections. As of Wednesday morning, 10 races involving veterans were still undecided, but unofficial results indicate that at least a few of those veteran candidates are likely to lose.

Ultimately, the final tally of veterans on Capitol Hill come January will not match the 102 veterans who were in office at the start of the 115th Congress.

Female and younger ex-service members made a good showing in the U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday although the overall number of vets who will show up for work on Capitol Hill in January will be lower than it was after the elections two years ago.

In a hotly contested election that saw Democrats flip the House and Republicans solidify their hold on the Senate, 77 military veterans won races around the country, according to data compiled by Military Times. Fifteen incumbent veterans in the Senate did not face elections. As of Wednesday morning, 10 races involving veterans were still undecided, but unofficial results indicate that at least a few of those veteran candidates are likely to lose.

Ultimately, the final tally of veterans on Capitol Hill come January will not match the 102 veterans who were in office at the start of the 115th Congress.

But of the 77 winners who served, 17 of them are new candidates—the biggest class of freshman veteran lawmakers since 2010, according to Military Times. Next year, almost half of the veterans in Congress will be men and women who served after the 9/11 attacks.

The class of new veterans includes three women, all Democrats: Mikie Sherrill, a 46-year-old former federal prosecutor and mother of four who served as a helicopter pilot in the Navy, in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District; Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force vet, in Pennsylvania’s 6th District; and new Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria, a retired Navy surface warfare officer and nuclear engineer.

Several veterans had tight races. Amy McGrath, the first female Marine to fly an F/A-18 fighter jet in combat, came close to winning in the red state of Kentucky but was ultimately defeated by Republican incumbent Rep. Andy Barr in the 6th District. Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally, a former Air Force fighter pilot, looks likely to edge out her Democratic opponent for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s vacant seat by a slim margin. And Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, appears to have been narrowly defeated in Texas’s 23rd District.

The new female veterans will join three incumbents: Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.

The wave of new veterans will bring renewed and greater oversight of the U.S. military and foreign policy to Washington, said Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat, in an interview ahead of the election. They will be strong proponents of modernizing the military and cutting waste, fraud, and abuse, as well as deterring growing Chinese and Russian aggression and continuing the fight against violent extremists. And they will likely weigh in on the continuing debate over the use of force.

“The people that push back the hardest in Congress on the Pentagon are veterans,” said Gallego, himself an Iraq War vet. “We don’t feel uncomfortable pushing back on people just because they have some stars on their lapels.”

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

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