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Democratic veterans helped tip House scales

A record 200 military veterans ran for the House and Senate this year, with at least six Democrats pulling upsets are taking open seats. Claudia Grisales, who reports on Congress for Stars and Stripes, recently called this group a “new generation of Democratic politicians with military experience,” who helped get out the vote and secure the House. Grisales joins Hari Sreenivasan.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    More than 200 military veterans ran for seats in the House and Senate in this year's midterm election. Among them were a number of first time candidates and women. The record number of veterans who ran is notable because representation of military veterans in Congress has fallen significantly in the last three decades. Claudia Grisales covers Congress for Stars and Stripes and joins me now from Washington D.C.

    So what was the difference this time around?

  • CLAUDIA GRISALES:

    Well, I think the enthusiasm behind these veterans was really noticeable and energetic and it caught voters attention. We're seeing a new generation of veterans from the current wars from Iraq and Afghanistan running for office and their messages resonated with voters.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Was it lopsidedly Republican or Democrat or how did it break down?

  • CLAUDIA GRISALES:

    It leaned Republican. Usually, it's heavily Republican. But what we saw different this campaign season, we saw more Democrats running with this military experience. And in a few cases, they cost them districts to flip and they drew some new interest.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Is there something that they're able to communicate to voters about bipartisanship that seems more genuine?

  • CLAUDIA GRISALES:

    I think voters do see a message of bipartisanship. I think they look at former Hill leaders like the late Senator John McCain and they see that bipartisanship is something that they can bring to the Hill, something they believe that can break down that kind of political toxicity that we're seeing these days.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Because it didn't really matter in the army, only the rank mattered, not necessarily what party you might have voted inside the polls?

  • CLAUDIA GRISALES:

    Exactly. It's about service to country and that translates into politics for a lot of these new members coming to the Hill.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And there was also a super PAC involved this time around, just stressing the bipartisanship. Tell us a little more about about that.

  • CLAUDIA GRISALES:

    So a new group was elevated this past year. They just launched in late 2017 and they drew a lot of attention. It's a cross-partisan group if you will, meaning they endorsed candidates who were running for the Democratic party, the Republican party or even as independents or liberals. And they've drawn a good amount of attention. For example, the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos and his wife made their most significant political donation, to date, ten million dollars to With Honor. So they're drawing a lot of interest.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Did it have a relative success in getting the candidates that it endorsed in?

  • CLAUDIA GRISALES:

    So they pulled out a slate of nearly 40 candidates that they endorsed and they saw at least 17 of those win their races. So considering the odds, they did pretty good.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What are the issues that the veterans are likely to go tackle on a bipartisan basis, especially ones related to veterans?

  • CLAUDIA GRISALES:

    Well one concern are the increasing demands being put upon the military presence in Yemen and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Decisions on who can and can't enlist and even questions about whether there should be a military parade or the amount of troops are being deployed to the border. I could see a lot of veterans getting involved in issues like this and perhaps looking at potentially more oversight of these demands.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Claudia Grisales of Stars and Stripes. Thanks so much.

  • CLAUDIA GRISALES:

    Thank you.

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