Campaign ads for Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb in the special election for the 18th congressional district highlight their military history. One congressman's public comment about Saccone put a larger spotlight on the issue of service in the race.
At Vice President Mike Pence's rally for Saccone in Bethel Park last week, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly told the crowd about "the importance of having Rick Saccone in Washington, the importance of having a real veteran in Washington."
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."
Pittsburgh's Action News 4 asked Lamb about the comments Kelly made at the Pence-Saccone rally.
"I'm a major in the Marine Corps Reserves, and I think most of my fellow Marines and service members would say that I'm a real veteran," Lamb said.
Kelly's office vehemently denied that the congressman's remarks were targeting Lamb.
"His speech was focused exclusively on praising Rep. Saccone and had nothing to with Mr. Lamb at all," Kelly's office said in an emailed statement to Pittsburgh's Action News 4. "The twisted interpretation of the congressman's remarks," the office wrote, "is desperate, ridiculous, and offensive."
Pittsburgh's Action News 4 asked the campaigns of both Saccone and Lamb for their candidates military records of their discharge from active duty.
Lamb's form DD-214 shows Lamb served in the Marines from October 2009 to September 2013, including one year and eight months of foreign service as a military prosecutor in Okinawa. He was awarded medals for national defense service, global war on terrorism service, and for a Navy and Marine Corps commendation. Lamb reached the rank of captain and received an honorable discharge. He is now a major in the Marine reserves.
When asked for its comment on Kelly's "real veteran" remark, the Saccone campaign responded via email. It wrote, "Rick Saccone served for 18 years in the United States Air Force and both of his sons currently serve as officers in the branch. He's fought tirelessly for our brave veterans in the state house and he will continue that fight in Congress."
Saccone's campaign has not yet provided Pittsburgh's Action News 4 with a copy of his service record but said it hopes to do so later this week.