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2020 candidates with military experience struggle to break through

Daniel Flatley, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

In this election, Democratic voters can choose from the largest-ever field of candidates with a variety of policy proposals and experience, making military experience just one credential among many, according to Loren DeJonge Schulman, the Leon E. Panetta Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan defense think tank.

"Though the military is the most trusted institution in the country, this is not a time in the presidential race where veteran's status is going to make a massive difference in vote share, or in donor networks," Schulman said in an email.

In response, all three veterans still in the race now talk about their policies and other elements of their resume beyond their service.

Buttigieg highlights his tenure as mayor of South Bend, Ind., at least as much as his time as a Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

"Being a community organizer is one way of showing who you are," Buttigieg said during an MSNBC appearance in July. "Holding a different kind of office is one way of showing who you are. But serving in the military says something about who you are. And faking a disability in order to avoid serving in the military definitely says something about who you are."

He was referring to Trump, who got a medical deferment for bone spurs, a claim some have found dubious given how many young men of privilege found ways to avoid serving in Vietnam. Trump, however, continues to enjoy high support among military veterans, according to a recent Pew Research survey.

Gabbard, a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, served tours of active duty in Iraq and Kuwait. In August, she withdrew from the campaign trail for two weeks to participate in a National Guard training mission in Indonesia.

The Hawaii representative has called for an end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and has attacked Trump's "chicken-hawk Cabinet," for inflaming tensions with Iran.


These positions helped her make the debate stage in June and July, even though she will not participate in the Houston debate on Thursday.

Sestak, who served 31 years in the Navy, says he has focused on kitchen-table issues in his campaign.

"To me, when I'm running, I am trying to make the argument, it isn't because I'm a vet," Sestak said. The country, he said, "wants somebody who they feel is accountable to them."

The former Pennsylvania representative, a latecomer to the race, hasn't qualified for any debate so far and could have trouble sustaining his campaign.

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