Veterans Hit the Battlegrounds

Washington Post

July 6, 2008 – Sen. John McCain is getting battleground-state help this week from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who will appear in a television commercial aimed at convincing the public that the United States is winning the Iraq war and should stay to finish the job.

Produced by Vets for Freedom, an organization of veterans of the two wars, the ad will run in Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and on cable nationwide. The group, with about 20,000 members, will spend $1.5 million on what it says is the first of many spots during the next month.

“As an organization, we have four months here,” said the group’s chairman, Pete Hegseth, an Iraq veteran. “A window of opportunity of heightened awareness. We think it’s crucial that the success our troops have made on the battlefield is relayed to the American public.”

The ad features eight veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and the mother of a soldier in Iraq. “We changed strategy in Iraq,” one of the soldiers says in the ad. “And the surge worked. Now that’s change we can believe in. We need to finish the job. . . . No matter who is president.”

Hegseth says his group is not operating on behalf of McCain and notes that federal law prohibits the organization from coordinating the ad with his campaign. The states were chosen, he said, not because they are crucial swing states for McCain, but rather because the heightened interest in those states will give it a larger audience.

“We’re going to tap into that heightened awareness,” he said, noting that his organization has supported several Democratic candidates in the past year or so. “It’s not an attack on anybody. We’re not taking on any presidential candidates.”

But he conceded that the message in the ad is almost identical to McCain’s on the stump: The troop buildup worked; let’s continue the war until we win. He said McCain has been the “strongest advocate” for the veterans of the two wars.

“We would hope that success in Iraq could benefit everybody,” he said.

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