National Journal: In Focus on Veterans, Obama Plays the Long Game
Truman Project Vice President Mike Breen quoted in National Journal story on veteran’s issues in the presidential election
By Sophie Quinton
September 14, 2012 | 12:00 p.m.
Stereotypes have long cast Democrats as peaceniks and Republicans as sabre-rattlers. But at the 2012 Democratic convention, odes to the military were inescapable, while Republican nominee Mitt Romney didn’t even note in his acceptance speech that the United States was at war.
President Obama isn’t expected to win the military vote, which tends to lean Republican. But the focus at the convention could have a longer-term payoff: bolstering the Democratic Party’s national-security credentials. Thanks to Obama’s most high-profile overseas success — the killing of Osama bin Laden — and his outreach to veterans and their families, the old stereotype may be crumbling.
“Veterans and military families are a group that they’ve been assiduously courting for the past four years,” said Peter Feaver, a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a former National Security Council official under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Despite that courtship, Feaver said, “Obama probably will not outperform his 2008 numbers.”
Polling continues to track the result of the 2008 election, when veterans favored Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., by 10 points. McCain, widely respected for surviving captivity during the Vietnam War, drew his strongest support among veterans over age 65, according to exit polls.
A Gallup poll released in May had Romney leading Obama by 24 points among veterans, with Romney’s support also driven largely by older, male voters. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll released the same month found a narrow advantage for Obama among veterans and their families, with 44 percent backing Obama and 37 percent choosing Romney. The Reuters/Ipsos poll, though it was conducted online, is still considered effective in measuring the preferences of younger voters.
“Nobody’s born in uniform. We are a reflection of society,” said Joe Davis, director of public affairs at the Veterans of Foreign Wars. While there’s a perception that most veterans lean right or center-right, the military reflects a range of political leanings, just like the rest of the country, Davis said.
Veterans and their families also aren’t single-issue voters. Like most Americans, their No. 1 worry is the economy. “The president has been true both in word and deed in taking care of military families,” Davis said, but “that’s not the top issue in this election.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that the president has made veterans a priority. Paying attention to veterans during a time of war is “good governance and good civics,” said Michael Breen, vice president of the Truman National Security Project and an Army veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Both the president and the first lady also seem to feel a genuine enthusiasm for the cause.
Breen joined retired Navy Admiral John B. Nathman and other veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan on stage at the Democratic Convention. The moment didn’t feel political. “It was, to me, and incredibly powerful moment of unity and thanks,” he said.