October 29, 2008 – The strategists plotting war hero John McCain’s electoral route to the White House have always been confident that they could count on the likes of Kevin E. Creed.
Creed, a Litchfield lawyer and former Connecticut state trooper, spent 17 years as an Army helicopter pilot before retiring from the military in 1996. After Sept. 11, 2001, Creed was one of 33 retired Army aviators who agreed to be recalled to meet the Pentagon’s need for specialized officers during a national emergency.
At the age of 51, Creed left his prosperous Connecticut law practice, lost 40 pounds, dug his old logbooks and flight suits out of his attic and returned to duty as an Army major, traveling between Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait as the Army’s theater aviation maintenance officer. In April 2003, Creed was shot down south of Baghdad and spent the night camping in the desert until he and his crew were rescued.
He retains one particularly strong memory from his service in Iraq.
“On the day that President Bush flew onto that aircraft carrier and declared ‘Mission Accomplished,’ [May 1, 2003],” Creed said, “I was in a command bunker outside Baghdad with dust flying all over the place from the explosions blasting over our heads. When we heard that Bush had said ‘Mission Accomplished,’ all the soldiers in the bunker laughed. This was the beginning of my asking, ‘Hey, what’s happening here? Something isn’t right.'”
Today, even though he once voted for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Creed is co-chairman of Connecticut Veterans for Obama, an affiliate of Barack Obama’s campaign that is dispatching volunteers to swing states and manning phone banks for Obama.
The efforts of Creed’s group are closely coordinated with Obama’s headquarters in Chicago during weekly conference calls.
“There’s going to be a big surprise on Nov. 4,” Creed said. “John McCain is not going to get the majority of the veterans’ vote, not in Connecticut and not nationwide.”
Creed’s counterpart is Richard O. Jones of Madison, a former Marine captain who is the veterans’ coordinator for the McCain-Palin campaign in Connecticut. Jones leads an enthusiastic group of veterans, but he concedes that the McCain campaign forces in Connecticut have had difficulty getting organized.
“Our activities so far have basically been writing letters to the editor and talking with our friends and neighbors,” Jones said. “There’s been no coordination from the national McCain organization because they’ve shifted all of their efforts to the swing states.”
The Republican Party has long relied on active-duty soldiers and veterans as a key voting bloc, and McCain’s celebrity as a Vietnam-era prisoner led to an early assumption that he would sweep the military vote.
Absentee military ballots proved pivotal for Republican George W. Bush in the controversial 2000 presidential vote in Florida. In the 2004 election, a CNN national exit poll showed that, among veterans, Bush polled 57 percent against Democrat John Kerry’s 41 percent.
This year, August polls by both Gallup and the Washington Post-ABC survey showed McCain well ahead of Obama – by as much as 56 percent to 34 percent – among military voters.
But since then the economic crisis may have eroded support for the Republican ticket among America’s 23 million veterans. And experts who study the military vote say a perfect storm of factors had already begun to blunt the Republican’s historical advantage among military voters.
During the long war in Iraq, multiple deployments to the Mideast have tested the patience of military families. Long lines at Veterans Administration clinics and social service centers, and repeated and highly publicized scandals about the poor quality of health care of wounded soldiers, have alienated veterans and their families.
Perhaps more significant, minority-group members now make up more than 30 percent of the armed services and women make up 15 percent, and both groups skew much more Democratic than the conservative white men who once formed the backbone of the military vote.
McCain has been endorsed by more than 240 retired generals and admirals, and five former secretaries of state. But he was hurt by the Oct. 19 endorsement of Obama by former Secretary of State and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, a venerable figure in the GOP.
The Powell endorsement has reverberated throughout the military establishment. For many undecided military voters, Powell’s October surprise could legitimize a vote for Obama.
“It’s a complete mistake to think that the Republicans will get the military vote,” said Kim Brown, 48, of West Haven, an Air Force veteran who said she is planning to vote for Obama.
“Right now, the VA is either overloaded or cutting back on benefits like prescription drugs or physical therapy, and I have seen people coming back from Iraq paralyzed from their injuries, and they can’t even get the wheelchair they need. A lot of us blame that on Bush policies – and McCain is very close to Bush.”
But McCain supporters insist that national security issues will remain paramount.
“I have always admired John McCain and remember very well his heroism in Vietnam,” said Robert Getman, 76, of Lyme, a McCain supporter who is a retired Coast Guard captain. “McCain is stronger on defense and national security, and he can restore our pride and image in the world.”
Economy A Priority
But other veterans who once were part of the military-Republican voting bloc say economic issues have overtaken the presidential race. Chester W. Morgan of Vernon is a former state legislator and 30-year veteran of the Connecticut National Guard. Morgan voted for George W. Bush in 2004, but this year is an avid Obama fan.
“Why does everyone think that veterans vote only on military issues?” Morgan said. “I am 71 years old now, and I have watched my retirement accounts decline by over $75,000 in the last four months. I am voting my pocketbook, and for change, this year, which means Obama.”
But McCain supporters predict that the excitement and flash over Obama does not mean that McCain will stumble on Nov. 4.
“Connecticut is a quiet state, and you’re not going to see McCain’s people out in public making a lot of noise,” said McCain backer Dennis McNamara of Clinton, a retired Navy senior chief. “And so we’re working quietly out there, and there’s a silent undercurrent for John McCain.”