Scott Radcliffe believes two tours of duty in Iraq gave him the stuff to serve in Congress. As a platoon commander, he helped spearhead economic development, built citizen coalitions and made many tough decisions, often amid enemy fire.
"I would be putting all I learned in that pressure-filled environment into practice. So it really cuts through metal," said Radcliffe, 28, who seeks to unseat a newly elected Republican in northwest Ohio.
He's among the dozen young Republicans from across the country helping each other campaign under the banner of Iraq Veterans for Congress, cross-promoting each other and directing donors to a shared Web site. It's a response to the anti-war veterans whose campaigns drew attention in 2006, among them Patrick Murphy of Philadelphia, the lone Iraq war vet serving in Congress.
The platform of Iraq Vets for Congress grew out of the attitudes of the previous election: They believe in victory in Iraq, staying on the offense in the war on terror and taking care of all veterans, said founder Kieran Lalor, who's running for a seat in New York.
Lalor's pro-war band of brothers includes California's Eric Egland, a military intelligence officer who gained national attention for his book "The Troops Need You, America" and a charity of the same name. Other members of the group hail from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana and Maine.
"Most people say we (Republicans) lost the Congress last time because of the war," said Lalor, 32, of Wappingers Falls, N.Y. "I put my life on the line there, I lost friends there, and if I didn't believe American national security was at stake, I would be the first to say so.
"We as messengers are as important as the message."
The warrior returned from battle to serve in public life is as ancient as the Roman hero Cincinnatus and as familiar as five-star general-turned-President Dwight Eisenhower. Political scientist Costas Panagopoulos, director of Fordham University's graduate program in Elections and Campaign Management, said combat experience resonates with voters, especially during wartime.
"It doesn't surprise me that we're seeing this development in the current election cycle," Panagopoulos said. "We're a country facing major national security and international issues and ... that experience will grab attention on the campaign trail."
Veteran candidates 'untouchable'
Both parties have recruited veterans in some of the nation's most competitive congressional districts. Democratic state Sen. John Boccieri, an Air Force reservist who's served in Iraq, is seeking the northeastern Ohio district being vacated by 18-term Republican Rep. Ralph Regula.
And in Maine's 1st District, where six-term Democratic Rep. Tom Allen is running for Senate, Republican Charlie Summers is seeking Allen's seat while serving in Iraq as a Navy reservist.
Despite the war's unpopularity, Americans still support their troops, and facing a veteran on the campaign trail can be difficult, said Michael Dejak, campaign manager for Summers' challenger in the Republican primary, Dean Scontras.
"It gives a candidate an unfair disadvantage because you're just kind of campaigning in a vacuum, but your opponent is draped in this ...," Dejak said, without finishing his sentence. "He's untouchable, almost."
'I can accomplish anything'
Many veterans cite the military as essentially their only qualification for office.
"After you've been in combat and you survived it, you've got this real energized sense that, 'I can accomplish anything,' and you view your country differently," said Ohio Democrat Paul Hackett, among the notable anti-war candidates in 2006.
Hackett dropped out of a U.S. Senate race that year when Congressman Sherrod Brown, a star among Ohio Democrats, decided to run. But he gained attention a year earlier for nearly beating Cincinnati-area Congresswoman Jean Schmidt with an outspoken anti-war campaign in a heavily Republican district.
J. Ashwin Madia, a former Marine running in Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District, is among anti-war veterans whom Hackett has endorsed this year. He's also part of VoteVets.org, a counterpart to Iraq Vets for Congress that has created Internet ads for anti-war veterans seeking office.
Madia, 29, who opposed the U.S. entry into Iraq and now favors orderly withdrawal, said the war remains a focus of his campaign.
"Certainly there are other issues weighing on people's minds — the economy, health care, education — but the war is central to the campaign because people realize it's all related," he said.