Military veterans are running for Congress this year in record numbers, many for the first time. In New Jersey's 11th district, no fewer than four veterans, two in each party, are running for the open congressional seat. Lisa Desjardins reports from the competitive district and explains what's behind this new national trend.
McCready is among more than a dozen Democratic House candidates backed by two relatively new national groups trying to influence the 2018 election. One of them, New Politics, supports candidates with a record of national service like the military or Teach for America. It’s bipartisan but has a mostly Democratic slate for the midterms.
The other, Serve America, is a Democratic PAC that is run by Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and dedicated to veterans like him, McCready and Lamb. One of the ideas behind it is that veterans can project a less partisan, petty image and perhaps do better than traditional Democrats in districts that aren’t blue.
“They’ve learned to work with people of different backgrounds and ideologies,” Emily Cherniack, who founded New Politics, explained to me recently. “Their framing has been to put the country first and solve problems.”
Still, Sherrill, 46, isn’t some Stepford Wife. After leaving high school in exurban northern Virginia, she graduated from the Naval Academy with prisoner-of-war training that included being punched, smoked-out and waterboarded. Then she flew a Sea King helicopter for a decade in Europe and the Middle East. The former assistant U.S. attorney for New Jersey has raised nearly $2.5 million after launching a bid for Congress more than a year ago. Her 11th district is one of four competitive Republican-held New Jersey seats, making the Garden State suburbs critical turf in the battle for control of the House.
She’s earned the endorsement of everyone from Emily’s List to former Vice President Joe Biden. And Sherrill fits a trend of Democrats hanging their hats on military women, including Amy McGrath in Kentucky and Gina Ortiz Jones in Texas. “It’s like Captain Americas are running for office; they’ve captured the imagination of who political leaders can be,” says Emily Cherniack, founder of New Politics, which recruits service alums to political life.
Witness Conor Lamb’s win in western Pennsylvania earlier this month. Polling suggests former Army Ranger Jason Crow could do the same in Colorado’s 6th District in the suburbs of Denver. Backed by members of Congress like Representative Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and organizations like VoteVets and New Politics, this roster of aspirants is a key to Democrats reclaiming control of the House of Representatives in November’s midterms, party strategists believe.
New Politics said that it “will be promoting Maura Sullivan publicly to our community of supporters” and "offering her strategic support and advice throughout the campaign."
“We’re proud to support Maura Sullivan because Americans across the political spectrum are hungry for new leadership in Washington that will put country over party and people over politics, and that’s who Maura Sullivan is,” Cherniack said.
A Boston-based group called New Politics is trying to help veterans and other public servants break into politics. This election cycle, they’re working with Maura Sullivan, a New Hampshire congressional candidate and a Marine veteran.
The carpetbagging criticism could be especially difficult to launch against Democratic candidates who left the district to serve their country.
“Americans understand that service to country can take you many places, including away from the community in which you’d most like to live,” said Emily Cherniack, the founder of New Politics, a bipartisan group that backs candidates with service backgrounds.
The "real veteran" remark by Kelly, a Republican who represents the 3rd congressional district, brought sharp criticism from New Politics, a group that encourages veterans to run for public office.
New Politics said Kelly was "denigrating Conor Lamb's military service" and that "it's unacceptable for any elected official to dishonor the nature of a veteran's service."
To Cherniack, assembling a new crop of elected officials feels foundational to creating a different kind of discourse — and a fresh approach to government. “We always say the lack of political leadership in this country is not for lack of leaders,” she says. “We know where they are. They’re just not running, and they’re not in elected office.”
Emily Cherniack, founder and executive of the group New Politics, called Matias “a product of the American Dream.”
“At a time when Washington is filled with politicians who are more concerned with promoting themselves than serving their communities, Juana’s a proven leader who represents real change,” she said.
If you’ve served our country and believe in putting people before politics, and you’re asking yourself, “How should I respond to this moment?” you’re also not alone. You’re a servant leader, you’ve already made the choice to step up and serve your country in the past, and you burn with a desire to continue to serve in the most powerful and effective way possible in this turbulent era. Perhaps you’ve even wondered if it’s time for you to step up and seek elected office as a next step in your service journey. After all, we are seeing what politics looks like when party comes before country.
“Progressives talk and talk about diversity. Then let’s get behind somebody!” said Emily Cherniack, founder and executive director of New Politics, a bipartisan group that supports candidates with national and military service backgrounds. Cherniack, who recruited Representative Seth Moulton to run for office, is now advising and urging Matias to run. “We have to be allies and put out our networks and resources.”
Dan Helmer says he was contacted by New Politics, an organization that, per its website, helps “promising national service alumni and military veterans run for public office.”
He described Trump’s victory as an animating moment. “On January 20th,” he said, “as [my wife] and I watched the inauguration, we asked ourselves, ‘What are we going to tell our sons what we did?’”
Perry, who has gay fathers, most recently worked at a nonprofit supporting children of LGBT parents. He has been endorsed by New Politics, a bipartisan group backing candidates with public service backgrounds, and Brand New Congress, a group formed by staffers with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
“There are so many who want to run that we’re aiming to endorse about two dozen veteran candidates across the country by the election in 2018,” he said in an interview on Boston Herald Radio in July, emphasizing the trust that military service inspires in voters.
“The status quo isn’t working,” Moulton said in a statement Wednesday. “We’re not going to fix the problems facing Americans today without a fresh perspective and a new approach in Washington.”
A four-year-old organization that supports veterans and national service alumni who run for office announced Monday its endorsement of Patrick Davis, an Iraq War veteran and 2004 West Point graduate who’s running for Orange County executive. “Pat Davis comes from a background of service and sacrifice, and our political system needs more leaders like him, who have dedicated their lives in service to their country and community,” Emily Cherniack, founder and executive director of New Politics, said in a press release. “At a time when the public’s trust in government is at an all-time low, servant leaders like Davis will help restore faith in our institutions by putting citizens first and holding government accountable.”
New Politics, a national organization that recruits and supports national service alumni and military veterans, is getting involved in Pennsylvania’s Congressional races, rolling out two endorsements in the last two weeks.
Last week, New Politics endorsed Chrissy Houlahan, who is running to challenge Congressman Ryan Costello next year.