Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Iowa Front: Military & Veterans’ Weekly Roundup

Although Gen. David Petraeus’ progress report in Iraq appeared to signal military support for President Bush’s stay-the-course strategy, other indicators suggest this may not be the best policy to adopt, especially if you’re running for Bush’s replacement. One such indicator is the study, “The Other Iraq Surge,” released Thursday by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, which shows Sen. Barack Obama, D-Il., and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tx., leading the list of president hopefuls receiving campaign contributions from people who work for the four military branches of government and the National Guard.

On the Democrat side, Obama is one of two presidential candidates, who has stood against the war in Iraq from the beginning, while Paul is the only candidate on the Republican side who has been vehemently opposed to the war. Ironically, the more Bush ratchets up his support-the-troops rhetoric, the more the troops are supporting candidates who don’t support the war. During the first six months of this year, Obama received 44 contributions worth about $27,000 and Paul 23 for about $19,300.

"Paul and Obama are talking straight to soldiers, and what they are saying is resonating," Larnell Exum, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said in the USA Today. Exum, who gave $500 to Obama, works for the Army as a congressional liaison and is a Democrat but voted for George Bush in 1992.

In the big picture, donations by military personnel comprise only a small fraction of the overall contributions made during the first half of this year, but who they’re contributing to resonates symbolically -- especially with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan spilling into the next presidential term. In 2004, military personnel contributed $1.2 million to presidential and congressional candidates, the center said. This year, those donations are about $200,000.

Traditionally, U.S. military members have voted Republican, but since the start of the war in Iraq in 2003, military personnel have dramatically shifted their allegiance to the Democrats:

In the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, uniformed service members gave about three-quarters of their federal contributions to Republicans. The percentage dropped to 59 percent in the 2004 cycle and has remained there since. This shift toward Democrats is most visible among members of the Army, who gave 71 percent of their money to Republicans before the war began. So far this year, members of the Army have given a mere 51 percent to the GOP, spreading their contributions nearly evenly between the two major parties.

In the 2002 election cycle, the last full cycle before the war had begun, the Democrats received a mere 23 percent of military members' contributions. So far this year, 40 percent of military money has gone to Democrats for Congress and president.

"People are saying now enough is enough," said Lt. Col. Joyce Griggs, an intelligence officer who said she spent two months in Baghdad earlier this year, speaking for herself and not the Army in the report’s study. "If you're a soldier, you're going to do your job, do what you're commanded to do. But that sentiment is wide and deep."

The drop in contributions to Republicans suggests that military personnel, who cannot speak out against military policy and directives, are using the power of the purse to express themselves.

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