Na­tional se­cu­rity women of­fer Democrats a Trump an­ti­dote

Gulf Times - - AMERICAS - By Amanda Becker, Reuters

Vir­ginia Demo­crat Abi­gail Span­berger had a po­tent de­fence against at­tacks by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and other Re­pub­li­cans cast­ing her party as weak on na­tional se­cu­rity: her ca­reer as a covert CIA coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cer.

In Novem­ber’s elec­tions, she was one of five Demo­cratic women with na­tional se­cu­rity or mil­i­tary back­grounds who cap­tured Re­pub­li­can-held US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives seats.

“The Badasses,” as the women have dubbed them­selves, had no po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.

Yet sev­eral won dis­tricts Re­pub­li­cans dom­i­nated for decades.

For Democrats hop­ing to make ad­di­tional in­roads with Trump vot­ers ahead of the 2020 US elec­tions, the women of­fer a roadmap for con­nect­ing with a wide spec­trum of the elec­torate — from a Demo­cratic base clam­our­ing for change to con­ser­va­tives drawn to their na­tional se­cu­rity cre­den­tials.

Democrats al­ready are plan­ning to re­cruit more House can­di­dates with ser­vice back­grounds and will be­gin rais­ing money early next year, Demo­cratic Party sources said.

The women who were suc­cess­ful this year will be im­por­tant in the party’s ef­forts in 2020 to keep con­trol of the House, as well as win back the Se­nate and White House by driv­ing over­all en­thu­si­asm for the Demo­cratic ticket, the sources said.

While there is a ques­tion mark about whether a woman with na­tional se­cu­rity ex­pe­ri­ence will end up on the pres­i­den­tial ticket, some see such a can­di­date as Democrats’ best hope to take on Trump.

“The top traits for Trump’s night­mare op­po­nent would be a young, charis­matic woman with a na­tional se­cu­rity back­ground,” said David Wasser­man, a se­nior an­a­lyst at the non­par­ti­san Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port.

These can­di­dates were the “se­cret sauce” for Democrats in Re­pub­li­can-lean­ing ar­eas this year, said Celinda Lake, a Demo­cratic poll­ster whose firm has worked with lead­ing party groups like the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

Span­berger will be the first woman to rep­re­sent her cen­tral Vir­ginia district and the only Demo­crat since the 1970s.

Elissa Slotkin, a for­mer CIA an­a­lyst, re­turned her Michi­gan district to Demo­cratic con­trol for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Mikie Sher­rill, a for­mer Navy pi­lot and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor, won a New Jer­sey district rep­re­sented by Re­pub­li­cans since the mid-1980s.

Elaine Luria, a for­mer Navy of­fi­cer, beat Re­pub­li­can in­cum­bent Scott Tay­lor, also a vet­eran, in south­ern Vir­ginia.

Chrissy Houla­han, an en­gi­neer and for­mer Air Force of­fi­cer, won her re­drawn Penn­syl­va­nia district af­ter 15 years of Re­pub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Vot­ers were less in­clined to be­lieve claims that the women would sup­port poli­cies like open bor­ders or back calls from some lib­er­als to abol­ish the Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency, Lake said.

“Democrats have a prob­lem, not just in be­ing per­ceived as lib­eral, but that lib­eral of­ten ends up be­ing per­ceived as weak,” Lake said.

“But you can’t run ‘weak’ against these women — they’re tougher than nails.”

Women were key to Democrats re­gain­ing con­trol of the House dur­ing the midterm con­gres­sional elec­tions.

There will be 102 women in the House next year, shat­ter­ing pre­vi­ous records, and 89 of them are Democrats.

Sher­rill, Luria and Houla­han are the largestever in­flux of women vet­er­ans, ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Vet­er­ans Cam­paign.

Sher­rill set a fundrais­ing record in her district, while Span­berger raised more than dou­ble her in­cum­bent op­po­nent.

Out­side spend­ing in Slotkin’s race was among the high­est in the coun­try.

The “vet­er­ans and ex-CIA of­fi­cers who stepped up to run for Congress built some of the strong­est cam­paigns in the coun­try,” said Tyler Law, spokesman for the DCCC, the arm of the Demo­cratic Party ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing House can­di­dates.

Jon Soltz, co-founder of Vote Vets, which seeks to elect Demo­cratic vet­er­ans, said the group will start rais­ing money soon for sev­eral House dis­tricts it thinks are winnable in 2020 af­ter nar­row losses by vet­er­ans in 2018.

Can­di­dates with a ser­vice back­ground get an “in­stant stamp of cred­i­bil­ity” with vot­ers, said Jeremy Ros­ner, a for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to Bill Clin­ton.

“I don’t know for sure if we’re go­ing to have a fe­male pres­i­den­tial can­di­date with a na­tional se­cu­rity back­ground, but I think there’s a very good chance we’ll see that at the Se­nate level,” said Ros­ner, whose Demo­cratic strat­egy firm worked on Slotkin’s race this year.

“There’s no rea­son that doesn’t have the same punch at a statewide race as it does in a House race.”

Jeremy Teigen, a Ramapo Col­lege of New Jer­sey po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist, said this year’s win­ners were the ideal foil to Trump, a pres­i­dent who ob­tained mul­ti­ple mil­i­tary draft de­fer­rals dur­ing the Viet­nam War, ques­tioned the find­ings of US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and made lewd com­ments about women.

“What’s the an­ti­dote to a guy who is a po­ten­tial draft dodger and misog­y­nist? How about a fe­male who vol­un­teered for mil­i­tary ser­vice,” said Teigen, who in May 2016 was one of more than 100 Re­pub­li­cans from the na­tional se­cu­rity com­mu­nity who signed a let­ter op­pos­ing Trump’s pres­i­dency.

Then-Vir­ginia Demo­cratic can­di­date for US Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Abi­gail Span­berger vis­its a horse res­cue stable she and her hus­band op­er­ate in Burkeville, Vir­ginia, in this Oc­to­ber 2018 file photo.

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