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Why the sudden surge in veteran candidates?

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.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn now to politics here in the U.S.

    Military veterans are running for Congress this year in record numbers, many for the first time.

    Lisa Desjardins traveled to Northern New Jersey to see how this national trend is playing out in one competitive House district.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On Memorial Day, in Northern New Jersey, retired First Sergeant Amery Vasso is leading the remembrance.

  • 1ST Sgt. Amery Vasso (Ret.):

    Today, we are taking time to ensure the nation remembers the sacrifices of America’s fallen.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The event is a calm, profound statement of service and gratitude. Amery served 23 years in the Army, including in Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.

    He’s also a voter who values veterans’ principles.

  • 1ST Sgt. Amery Vasso:

    They swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and all that. And I think they hold that still to this day, even if they’re out.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amery lives in a closely watched, unique district the open congressional seat in New Jersey’s 11th. Among the crowded field are no fewer than four veterans, two in each party, all first-time candidates.

  • 1ST Sgt. Amery Vasso:

    Come on. What’s up, boy?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amery is undecided, but gives one of the most often-heard arguments in favor of electing veterans.

  • 1ST Sgt. Amery Vasso:

    They understand putting the country before themselves is important. I’m not sure that all of the representatives in Washington feel that way and believe that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

     The four veterans running in this New Jersey race are part of a national trend, hundreds of veterans running for Congress this year. It is a modern-day record.

    Among the first-time hopefuls in New Jersey, Republican Tony Ghee. The investment banker and Army Reservist is a natural at parade politics.

    He thinks vets are critical now because of global tensions.

  • Antony Ghee:

    Every time we send troops into harm’s way, right, there are bodies, there are families that stand behind those soldiers. Sometimes, the art of avoiding conflict or by, quite frankly, ending conflict is by making peace.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Somebody was asking me, Mikie, can you still fly a helicopter?

    Mikie Sherrill is another rookie candidate who doesn’t seem to show it. The retired Navy helicopter pilot and prosecutor is part of an influx of Democratic veterans running. Democrats estimate nearly one-third of their top-tier congressional candidates have served in the military.

  • Mikie Sherrill:

    I went to the Naval Academy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Why the sudden surge in veteran candidates? Well, consider the current trust gap. In a recent “PBS NewsHour”/NPR/ Marist poll, just 25 percent of adults had any confidence in Congress, 43 percent in the presidency. But the military? Twice that, holding the confidence of a sweeping 88 percent of American adults.

    At a local street fair, Sherrill talks about her service. It’s part of her argument for Democrats in general.

  • Mikie Sherrill:

    We have got to provide new leadership in Congress. We have got to make sure that we can provide a check on this chaotic and reckless presidency. And so the task right now is to flip the House of Representatives and ensure that we promote the values that this country has always stood for.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This surge of veteran candidates isn’t happening by accident.

    Recently, several outside groups have formed to help veterans run for office, like this one, called New Politics. The group’s founder, Emily Cherniack, wants to reverse the shift in Congress.

  • Emily Cherniack:

    Historically before 1975, over 70 percent of Congress had served. And, you know, now we’re less than 18 percent.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Is this a historic low?

  • Emily Cherniack:

    It’s an historic low, yes, the lowest in history.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But do voters care if a candidate is a veteran? We asked at the street fair.

  • Woman:

    Absolutely not. Why? Why would that matter? Anybody who can do the job well and get it done and help the people gets my vote.

  • Man:

    I’m more likely to support someone who’s supported our country in the past.

  • Woman:

    And they’re less likely to be a politician. They will be more of a citizen and for America than a politician.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Back at the memorial, Amery Vasso shares the family’s history of service with his granddaughter. But he says it’ll take more than a military record to get his vote.

  • 1ST Sgt. Amery Vasso:

    I want the one that’s going to serve the country best, serve my community best, solve what needs to be solved. And if that’s a veteran, excellent. If it’s not, excellent, too.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One thing pulling for veterans, though, he thinks they’re more likely to see politics as a temporary job.

  • 1ST Sgt. Amery Vasso:

    I think that’s how the framers intended it, not for people to be in Washington, D.C., for an eternity.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Not career politicians?

  • 1ST Sgt. Amery Vasso:

    Not career politicians. So I think the vet, a veteran has that idea of serving.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They served. This year, voters decide if more veterans will govern.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins in Woodland Park, New Jersey.

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