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Political attrition takes toll on Democrats

The "Fighting Dems" aren't a collective powerhouse after all.  For months, the Democratic Party has trumpeted the congressional candidacies of several dozen Democratic challengers who served in the military. Six weeks before the midterm elections, only a few have a fighting chance to win.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The "Fighting Dems" aren't a collective powerhouse after all.

For months, the Democratic Party has trumpeted the congressional candidacies of several dozen Democratic challengers who served in the military. Six weeks before the midterm elections, only a few have a fighting chance to win.

The rest lost in the primaries, dropped out or trail their Republican opponents in fundraising. Many of the Democrats are little-known political novices who don't have the financial backing of the party's campaign committees, which buy ads to benefit those they believe can win.

Falling behind
Democrats concede only a few are in competitive races.

"The key point is that we had so many veterans running as Democrats and that veterans were willing to stand up and say that 'I'm a Democrat and I'm running for office,'" said Karen Finney, a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman. "They understand that our party is committed to our men and women in uniform and that our party has a place for them."

Republicans, for their part, also have had only a few of their challengers with military experience end up in hard-fought races.

Democrats and their allies have hailed their former soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines running for Congress. A DNC Web page is devoted to the "Fighting Dems" and boasts that more than 50 veterans are running for Congress as Democrats. But only about a half dozen have a shot at winning in November.

"We've got a huge military presence here in this campaign," former President Clinton said recently, a reference to the party's congressional candidates as he disputed Republican portrayals of Democrats as "imperiling the security of the country."

Vietnam veterans alliance
A dozen Democratic candidates who served in the military were to appear alongside Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., on Wednesday as the Vietnam veteran assails Bush's wartime policies during a news conference sponsored by the Veterans' Alliance for Security and Democracy, a political action committee.

The Democratic Party has been trying to counter Republican accusations that it's soft on security, and the belief is that Democrats who have military experience can insulate themselves from such criticism.

Democrats need to gain 15 GOP-held seats in the House and six in the Senate to win control of Congress. Some of the best chances for pickups are a few districts where Democrats with military records are challenging Republicans.

"It's not like Democrats are going to sweep the field with veterans," said Gary Jacobson, a congressional scholar at the University of California at San Diego. "But having a smattering of them in a few competitive congressional races helps to remind voters that the war in Iraq has not gone as planned or predicted."

Virginia's Senate race recently tightened, giving Democrats hope that their candidate, Jim Webb, a former Navy Secretary under Ronald Reagan, can defeat Republican Sen. George Allen.

In House races, Tammy Duckworth, an Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq, faces Republican Peter Roskam for an Illinois open seat. Districts in Pennsylvania pit Joe Sestak, a onetime Navy vice admiral, against GOP Rep. Curt Weldon; Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, against GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick; and Chris Carney, who is in the Naval Reserves, hopes to oust Republican Rep. Don Sherwood.

In Kentucky, Ken Lucas, who served in the Air Force and Air National Guard, is running against Republican Rep. Geoff Davis.

Party support
In each of those districts, both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Campaign Committee are running or planning to air advertisements in the campaign's final weeks, the signal of a competitive race.

The same is true in a few Democratic-held districts in which Republicans with military credentials are challengers.

In those, Van Taylor, an Iraq veteran, is challenging Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas; Republican Chris Wakim, who served in the Army, is facing Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va.; Max Burns, who also served in the Army, is running against Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.; and Martha Rainville, a former adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, is challenging Democrat Peter Welch in that state's open seat.