Analysis Culture

Spotlight: Veteran Candidates — After Action Review

This article is the last of a series on veteran candidates for the House of Representatives in toss-up districts. Part One of the series can be found here.

This article should not be seen as an endorsement of any political candidate or party, and does not represent the views of The Freq Media.

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The 2018 midterm elections are over and results are in. Both parties were energized and showed up at the polls, a record 113 million people participated in the vote, the first time a midterm election surpassed 100 million voters, representing 49% of the voting population. Overall, while Democrats won some key victories, they also lost a few and fell short of a ‘blue wave’. As expected, the House of Representatives turns blue, with Democrats winning at least 224 seats, as of the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 7th (they needed 219 for a majority). In the 14 races left to be called, Democrats lead in 6, making it likely to increase their majority to 11, potentially up to 19.

Democrats also performed well in gubernatorial and statewide elections, flipping many state legislatures blue or purple, and netting 6 more governor’s seats, including Wisconsin, where Tony Evers (D) defeats incumbent Scott Walker (R). However, with key wins in the Florida and Ohio gubernatorial elections, the Republicans were nowhere near swept. The Republicans also increased their majority in the Senate, as expected, defending key seats, such as Ted Cruz’s (R) in Texas, and unseating key targets including Democrat Claire MacCaskill of Missouri. Time will tell how the changes in Congress will affect the end of President Trump’s current term and the upcoming 2020 election.

Veteran candidates also had some wins and losses. Overall, veteran representation in Congress is likely to decrease. Seventy-seven veterans won office in the House and Senate on Thursday, adding to the 15 incumbent members of the Senate not up for reelection. Ten veterans are in races not yet called. If they all win, which is unlikely given current standings, that would bring the total number of veterans in Congress equal to the number in the last session. However, good news does abound. The number of women veterans has increased, and the number of new veterans in office is the highest seen since 2010 — a 2018 class of 17. Given lower levels of military service in an all-volunteer military era, a return to the levels of veterans in Congress seen in the 1970s is unlikely, but a large freshman class is a sign that the number won’t continue to decline.

Let’s take a look at the handful of candidates covered in this series.

Dan Feehan (MN-1)

Feehan, an Army veteran, has lost to Republican Jim Hagedorn. This was Hagedorn’s fourth attempt at the seat, previously held by Rep. Tim Walz (D), the retired Sergeant Major who is now Minnesota’s Governor-Elect. Feehan lost by only 1,311 votes in a hotly contested election. This was one of two seats in Minnesota that flipped red in 2018.

Steve Watkins (KS-2)

With 48.1% of the vote, Republican Steve Watkins wins the Kansas Second District election by a margin of 4,400. Early polling and results suggested the Democrat Paul Davis would win, but Republicans turned out to give Watkins a victory. Running on a conservative platform of gun rights and limited immigration, Watkins, aged 42, is a political newcomer who has risen remarkably quickly on a campaign funded largely by himself and his family. Watkins himself credited his outsider status for his win.

Randy Bryce (WS-1)

Bryce lost his election to Republican Bryan Steil in the race for Paul Ryan’s seat in the House. Bryce lost by around 40 thousand votes, or 12%. Although Democrats pinned their hopes to the veteran and union ironworker who was outspoken against Scott Walker’s policies, it was likely fierce attack ads featuring Bryce’s brother and his record of unpaid child support that contributed to his defeat, as well as the district’s red history.

Jared Golden (ME-2)

One of the most contested races in the country is still undecided. Golden and his opponent, Bruce Poliquin, both won around 46% of the vote in a race with two independent candidates on the ballot. Because no candidate won a majority, the vote undergoes an automatic runoff called ranked-choice vote, where the voters who selected the two trailing candidates will have their votes re-allocated to the leaders based on their second-choice selection. While Poliquin led the election day results by roughly 1,500 votes, exit polling suggests that Golden is favored by the 22,500 voters that chose the two independent candidates. It seems likely that Golden will be the winner.

Elaine Luria and Scott Taylor (VA-2)

Luria, the retired Navy Commander, turns Virginia’s Second District blue by defeating incumbent and former Navy SEAL Scott Taylor. Taylor has not yet conceded and is waiting for absentee and provisional ballots to be counted on Wednesday, though with a 1.5 point margin, Luria’s victory is expected to be confirmed. Luria’s campaign was bolstered by Taylor’s mistakes, including property tax delinquency and his staff’s involvement in a petition fraud scandal. Taylor was seen as a rising GOP star, having obtained a valued seat on the House Appropriations Committee as a freshman representative.

Amy McGrath (KY-6)

McGrath lost her race by 3 points in a defeat that was heartbreaking for Democrats. The race for Kentucky’s Sixth District was seen as a solid pickup opportunity for Democrats, and McGrath, as a woman, pilot, and Marine, was seen as a prime example of the new generation of Democrats. McGrath, who refused to run attack ads, fell to Andy Barr, a Republican who touted access to the Trump administration and ran on economic policy.

Gina Ortiz Jones (TX-23)

Texas’ 23rd District is another too-close-to-call race in 2018. A final precinct initially misreported votes, giving Jones a slight lead and forcing the Associated Press to rescind its initial announcement of her loss, but a corrected count threw the lead back to incumbent Rep. Will Hurd (R), but only by 689 votes. Yet another tallying error was discovered, this time a double-counting of Jones votes in far west Culberson County, increasing Hurd’s lead to around 1150 votes. Hurd has announced victory, but on Thursday, Jones would not rule out the possibility of asking for a recount. Under Texas law, any candidate within ten percent of the victor can ask for a recount, but must fund it themselves. This would cost Jones around $100,000. It remains to be seen what she will do; provisional, absentee, and military ballots are due Tuesday November 13th, and Jones may have until early December to ask for a recount.

Richard Ojeda (WV-3)

Republican Carol Miller defeated Ojeda, the former Army paratrooper, by approximately 12 points in a red state that was once considered one of the bluest in the nation. Miller successfully painted Ojeda as out of touch with his district, and overly focused on undermining the Trump administration. While Ojeda had support from the union coal workers in his district due to his defense of teachers’ unions while in the West Virginia Senate, Ojeda was brought down by powerful messaging that tied Democrats to regulation that hurt the coal industry and drove jobs and residents out of the district.

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Veteran candidates, overall and in the specific races examined in this series, went the way of the total election — some wins and losses on all sides. Ultimately it was a good year for veterans, particularly first-term representatives and senators; veteran representation in Congress stands a chance at remaining near current levels for the foreseeable future.

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Luke Ryan
2 years ago

Awesome series, Tyler. Rare to find even reporting that isn’t pandering to an agenda, but just tells it as it is and lets the reader decide. Thanks for working on these.

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