WASHINGTON – Ten military veterans running as Democrats for House seats denounced Republican foreign strategy Wednesday,calling the Iraq war a failed policy.
Rep. John Murtha,D-Pa.,endorsed the candidates at a press conference and condemned Republicans for calling veterans running as Democrats unpatriotic.
“This is a failed policy,wrapped in illusion,” Murtha said of the war at the press conference,sponsored by Veterans' Alliance for Security and Democracy,or VETPAC for short,a political action committee.
Murtha,a Vietnam veteran who initially supported the war but became one of the most vocal critics of the conflict,said the war in Iraq can't be won militarily,but must be won diplomatically.
“Stay the course is not a plan,it's a campaign slogan,” said Democratic candidate Richard Sexton,a former Navy officer running in New Jersey's 8th District against longtime Republican incumbent Rep. James Saxton.
Patrick Murphy,a former Army captain who served in Iraq and is running in Pennsylvania's 8th District against first-term Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick,said a timeline is needed for troops to start coming home.
“We're going against opponents who like to talk the talk,but not walk the walk,” he said.
The other candidates agreed a military timeline is needed and that Iraqis should take control of their country without U.S. occupation.
Former Navy officer Duane Burghard,running in Missouri's 9th District against six-term Rep. Kenny Hulshof,called Republicans fear-mongers.
“The question is not if we're fighting evil,but if we're competently fighting that evil,” he said.
Democrats will need to win 15 more seats than they have now to take back control of the House. Six more are needed to reclaim the Senate.
According to VETPAC,73 veterans are running in congressional elections – 50 are Democrats and 21 are Republicans. VETPAC has endorsed 22 of the candidates,all Democrats. VETPAC is still considering whether to endorse others.
Norm Ornstein,a political scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,said it's a “no brainer” why military veterans are running as Democrats in this campaign.
“It's not rocket science as to why they would to do that,” he said,noting that voter sentiment against the war has grown since it started in 2003,which could give Democrats a leg up on Nov. 7.
But Ornstein said Democrats shouldn't rely on candidates' military records.
“For all the talk about how awful it is in Iraq,you still have to be a party with unity,” he said.
John Fortier,an AEI scholar,said none of the Democrats at the VETPAC conference is favored to win,but he noted that Iraq war vet Murphy has a reasonable chance of taking Fitzpatrick's seat.
Ed Patru,a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee,called the Democrats' push to elect military veterans a “monumental failure.” He said the Democratic veterans are “one-issue” candidates.
“There are only a few viable candidates at this point,” he said,adding that Democratic candidates running as military veterans haven't raised much campaign money.
Danny Diaz,a spokesman for the Republican National Committee,called military veterans running as Democrats a public relations stunt for the party.
But not all critics of the war are Democratic congressional challengers.
Three retired military officers appeared before Democrats in a policy meeting Monday,blasting Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and the events leading up to the war in Iraq. They did not call for an immediate exit strategy.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton said at least 60,000 more troops are needed in Iraq to secure the region that has been ravaged by sectarian violence.