Politics & Government

‘Here come the Marines’: Democrats running veterans to flip red congressional districts

Updated April 16 to clarify that Democratic candidate Dan McCready and Rep. Seth Moulton are Marine veterans, not retired Marines.

North Carolina Democrats are banking on veterans, particularly Marines, to help them flip Republican-held U.S. House seats across the state.

Marine veterans are running as Democrats in special elections in the state’s 3rd and 9th districts this year, and another just announced his candidacy in the 2nd district for 2020.

“America is looking for leaders. No one looks in Congress and says, ‘Wow, they’re really knocking them out of the park.’ We need Congress to actually do things and that means putting the country before political ideology,” said U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, potential 2020 presidential candidate and Marine veteran. “Veterans have the experience of serving the country, often putting their lives on the line for the country.”

Moulton endorsed more than two dozen military or CIA veteran House candidates in 2018 through his Serve America PAC. That list includes 9th district candidate Dan McCready, who served in Iraq. The 2018 election results were tossed by the state board of elections for election fraud done on behalf of the Republican candidate, so McCready is running in a do-over.

Perhaps buoyed by McCready’s success — unofficial results of the invalidated election had him trailing by 905 votes in an district that President Donald Trump carried by nearly 12 points in 2016 — other candidates with similar profiles are running too.

“Look out NC — here come the Marines,” McCready tweeted about the influx of Marine candidates.

In the 3rd district, where a special election is being held to replace the late Rep. Walter Jones, at least two of the Democrats — Richard Bew and Ike Johnson — are retired Marines. A third, Ernest Reeves, served in the Army.

The military-heavy district includes Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Several other candidates in the race also have military backgrounds. Among them: Republicans Francis X. De Luca, Phil Law and Michael Speciale as well as Libertarian Tim Harris served in the Marines, and Libertarian Shannon W. Bray in the Navy.

Bew spent 29 years in the Marine Corps, retiring in October as a colonel. A pilot, he served combat missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey and Europe and most recently served as chief legislative aide to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“I’m just not done serving yet,” Bew said. “People are frustrated by what’s happening in Washington. I can understand that. They want someone to go make a difference.”

Richard Bew
Richard Bew, a retired Marine, is running for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District. Matthew D Hodges Provided by the Bew campaign

In a forum held in Craven County on Monday night, Bew touted his experience working with military leaders on funding projects. He said he was the first to point out that President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration could take money from military projects in Eastern North Carolina.

Bew quickly picked up endorsements from VoteVets PAC and by Moulton’s Serve America group after entering the race.

The endorsement of VoteVets angered Johnson, another Democrat in the race. Johnson served 27 years in the Marines, seeing action in combat zones. He said in a statement that “it seems that equal consideration was not given to all veteran candidates in this race.”

“We are servants. We served,” Johnson said of why veterans are running for office. “We know how to lead people, how to get things done.”

Johnson was awarded a Bronze Star for his work during the 1991 Desert Storm campaign in Kuwait and Iraq. He said as a food service officer he created the largest field mess in the history of the Marine Corps, creating a manual for how to feed more than 25,000 people two hot meals a day.

“It’s that innovative thinking I’ll take to Congress,” he said.

One-stop early voting in the 3rd district, which covers parts or all of 17 counties in Eastern North Carolina, started Wednesday and runs through April 26. The primary election day is April 30. There are 17 Republicans, six Democrats, two Libertarians and one Constitution Party candidate running.

McCready is the lone Democratic candidate in the 9th district, which runs from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the state’s southern border. Early voting in the Republican primary in the district begins April 24. There are 10 Republicans competing for the nomination.

The election in North Carolina’s 2nd district, which includes part of Wake County as well as parts or all of Franklin, Harnett, Johnson, Nash and Wilson counties, isn’t until next year. But Scott Cooper, who flew missions with Bew, has already declared for the Democratic nomination. The seat is held by Republican Rep. George Holding, who won his fourth term in Congress in 2018 by defeating Democrat Linda Coleman.

Scott Cooper.JPG
Scott Cooper, a 2020 Democratic candidate in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, is a retired Marine. He served as a Naval Flight Officer. Provided by the Cooper campaign

Cooper founded Veterans for American Ideals in 2015. It’s a nonpartisan group dedicated to “advocating for policies that are consistent with the ideals that motivated us to serve in the first place.” The group is working on helping translators and interpreters who worked with American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan get visas to come to the U.S. It’s also taken a stance against anti-Muslim bigotry.

Cooper said he thinks there is an appetite for those kind of solutions in Congress. He said he is disheartened by the lack of character and ethics among some public servants. Though in recent U.S. history, veterans were not always celebrated, Cooper said, they are currently enjoying a sort of universal admiration across the political spectrum.

“We’ve divided ourselves so much by political ideology. The military is a unique place. No one asks what party you’re from, who your parents are, what god you pray to, who you choose to love,” Cooper said. “The best thing that came of that was I was required to work toward a common purpose with people I didn’t like. There is no option in the military. I’m not saying veterans are somehow the savior of the country. But to bridge those divides and reach across the aisle, those are the kind of people we need in our Congress today.”

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.