Steve Sarvi and Aswhin Madia are joining about a dozen other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans running for Congress this election cycle.
Sarvi, who just returned from a deployment to Iraq with the Minnesota National Guard, is running against incumbent Republican John Kline in the Second Congressional District.
Madia, who was a Marine captain working as a lawyer with Iraqi judges and attorneys, is running for the seat in the Third Congressional District left open by the announced retirement of Republican Jim Ramstad. Both Sarvi and Madia are DFLers.
U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is currently the first and only Iraq War vet elected to Congress. Congressional Quarterly recently reported that 15 men and women who have served in the current war are running for the Senate or House in one of the 79 House districts rated as potentially competitive.
What does being a veteran bring to a candidacy?
Remember the “Fighting Dems” of the 2006 elections? They were a group of vets, disenchanted with the war, who ran for Congress last year. Perhaps epitomizing that group was Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq. She announced her candidacy on ABC-TV’s “This Week with George Stephanopolous.” C-SPAN followed her recovery and therapy at Walter Reed.
While the Democrats registered some victories – including Tim Walz in Minnesota’s First Congressional District – in the end, the results for the “Fighting Dems” were mixed at best. Duckworth, for instance, lost to Republican Peter Roskam in her Illinois district.
This time around, a number of Republican veterans are running as well, including Duncan Hunter, the son of the congressman and presidential candidate.
James Bootz, the chairman of the Minnesota DFL’s veterans’ caucus, said there are a number of reasons vets face an uphill battle when they announce intentions to run. As it was in Walz’s case, the party infrastructure may be slow to embrace the vet as candidate, particularly in Congresional races where long-time party faithful may have lined up for years waiting for a chance to run. In many cases, the veterans are first-time candidates with little experience or currency with their parties, Bootz said.
Campaign officials for Sarvi, the former mayor of Watertown and current city administrator for the City of Victoria, say his combat experience should level the military playing field against Kline, the retired Marine lieutenant colonel.
Sarvi, whom many in Carver County had always thought was a Republican, describes a middle-of-the night epiphany in the Iraqi desert when he decided to run. He had been sent a large green packet from Wellstone Action, the training and leadership development center for progressives founded as a legacy for Paul and Sheila Wellstone.
“About three a.m. I stumbled out of my room, my brain was just kind of on fire, and I looked up at the stars and I said, ‘You know, not only should I run but I can win.’”
While he was still deployed, he had his father embark on a district-wide listening tour to determine the viability of his candidacy.
At least in Democratic circles, from the presidential race on down, how early a candidate came out publicly opposing the war has become an issue, particularly among stalwart Democrats. But that can present some problems for someone still in the active military. Madia often talks about how it was illegal for him, a Marine captain, to publicly question U.S. military policy while he was on active duty.
Madia left the Marines on July 4, 2006. “On July 5, 2006, I publicly came out against the war,” he told a crowd at a recent debate on Iraq, generating applause.