Two Texas veterans running in tough congressional races

San Jose Mercury News

Two Texas veterans who have never run for public office say they are in tough congressional races for the same reasons they fought in Iraq: to help their country.

David T. Harris is trying to defeat the most powerful Texan in Congress: U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Van Taylor wants a chance to unseat U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, the only Democrat in a competitive race who survived in office after Texas’ 2004 congressional redistricting – and in the district that includes President Bush’s Crawford ranch.

But that’s where the similarities end for the two candidates, who don’t know each other. They are among about a dozen veterans from the Iraq war or Afghanistan running for Congress this year nationwide. Most are Democrats.

Harris, a Democrat in the Army Reserves who served in Iraq 14 months, says he thought the war was a mistake then and now.

“Over time you’ve seen more and more things come out about Iraq, the pre-war intelligence, and it validates in your heart where you know you were lied to,” said Harris, 34, who teaches military science at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Taylor, a Republican in the Marine Reserves who fought in Iraq about four months, says he always supported the U.S. invasion and that troops must remain in Iraq “until the job is done” to win the war on terrorism.

“We’re fighting those guys every day, and taking our boot off their throat would be a terrible mistake,” said Taylor, 33, a Waco businessman who has an opponent in next week’s GOP primary election.

Harris, a Pennsylvania native, joined the Army in 1992. He was deployed to Iraq in early 2003, a few months after he transferred to the reserves.

“I knew this wasn’t the right place or the right time. We were still involved in Afghanistan, and now here we are taking on a second front,” Harris said. “But we all raise our right hand and take the oath, and we all have our marching orders.”

Harris’ unit provided convoy security and did reconnaissance missions but never experienced heavy firefights, he said. He saw soldiers frustrated and unprepared because missions kept changing and equipment was outdated or lacking, he said.

Harris said he doesn’t know exactly when troops should return but said lawmakers and military leaders must devise an exit strategy, just as they set a date for Iraqi elections.

“I think we have to live up to our pre-war promises and return the sovereignty back to the country of Iraq,” Harris said. “We have done our job there.”

Harris, who moved with his wife and three children to Arlington in 2002, said he decided to run in the Republican-leaning district because he believes voters will respond to his military experience and ideas on other issues – even though Barton, the longtime incumbent, has a hefty campaign account.

“The playbook went out the window,” Harris said. “The norms for political candidates are no more.”

Taylor, who grew up in Midland, joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Harvard in 1995. After four years of active duty, including a year on the U.S.-Mexico border, he joined the Marine Corps Reserves while earning an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Taylor said he was deployed to Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion, gathering information behind enemy lines and also rescuing 31 wounded troops. He said his platoon helped locate Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was captured by Iraqis after a convoy ambush and later was rescued by U.S. military commandos.

“I have an appreciation for freedom that I didn’t have before,” he said.

Taylor said that last summer after he moved to the town of West from Dallas, a family friend approached him about running for the congressional District 17, which stretches from Burleson to College Station and includes Bush’s ranch near Crawford.

Taylor said some GOP leaders in the district also encouraged him. Taylor, who moved his real-estate and investment company to nearby Waco, said he moved to a small town because he wanted a better quality of life for his family.

Taylor has heftier campaign coffers than his opponent in the March 7 Republican primary: Calvert attorney Tucker Anderson, a former aide for U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.

Taylor, who is married with two children, said his experience as a veteran who supports the war make him the better candidate.

“People in the district want to send someone to Washington to win the war on terror,” he said. “Cutting and running is not a plan to make the country safe.”


David T. Harris campaign:

Van Taylor campaign:

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