The number of veterans in Congress has been steadily dropping in recent election cycles, but the legislative branch’s meager military credentials could take a major hit this year.
According to an analysis from the nonpartisan Veterans Campaign, only 183 of the 865 major-party candidates up for election to Congress this year boast military experience. It’s the first time in recent memory that fewer than 200 veterans were on the campaign trail in the congressional races.
Based on recent polling data, those sparse figures could drop the total number of veterans in the House and Senate to under 100 for the first time since the 1950s, when World War II veterans began seeking office for the first time.
The current Congress has only 106 lawmakers with military experience, and Veterans Campaign Executive Director Seth Lynn said he expects that number to drop by up to 10 percent next year.
“We’re used to seeing this steady decrease every two years, but this could be an even steeper drop than we normally expect,” he said. “This is going to be the election that puts us below earlier levels.”
Veterans of recent wars
That drop could come despite a rise in the number of candidates from the recent wars seeking national office. Of the 183 veterans running for Congress, 46 — about 25 percent of the field — served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Already, 17 recent war veterans are serving in the House and Senate. Most of them are favored in their re-election bids.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is leaving the House in an attempt to become the Senate’s second Iraq War veteran. The first, Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., opted not to seek re-election after he was found to have plagiarized his master’s thesis at the Army War College.
Lynn said that among both younger and older veteran candidates, military experience is largely a résumé afterthought, not the linchpin of their campaigns.
That reflects public interest in nonmilitary issues leading up to November’s vote. An Associated Press-GfK poll released earlier this month found the economy to be the top issue on voters’ minds this cycle, with health care issues coming in second.