McCain, Obama say Missouri vets back them

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 | 9:40 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama each tried to lay claim to the support of Missouri veterans on Tuesday.

The campaigns made the claims in dueling news releases issued within hours of each other, underscoring the role of veterans’ support as a political strategy.

McCain's campaign started with a morning announcement in suburban Kansas City that it had created a group of veteran supporters of the Arizona Republican. Many of the members are Republican state lawmakers, some of whom have served in Iraq.

A McCain news release quoted group Co-chairman Joe Frank as saying McCain “has always put his country first — both as a soldier and a leader. He stands up for what is right and has the experience and judgment needed to lead us to victory, which is why veterans throughout Missouri are eager to give our support to John McCain.”

Later in the day, Obama’s campaign followed with its own release that included remarks from two Missouri veterans, each praising the Illinois Democrat for plans to withdraw troops from Iraq and for supporting veteran benefits.

The release quoted Mike Evans, a St. Louis County Army veteran who says Obama “has a plan to end this costly war in Iraq, to redeploy our troops from Iraq, strengthen our military and finish the job in Afghanistan.” Evans said McCain “has not laid out a plan to responsibly end this war. That’s not what the veterans I know in Missouri are looking for.”

The state veterans committee isn’t the first time McCain, a Vietnam War combat pilot, has turned to Missouri veterans for support. Former state Rep. Jack Jackson, who also flew jets during the Vietnam War, is co-chairman of McCain’s Missouri campaign.

Claiming the support of veterans is a campaign strategy that has become more common after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made foreign policy issues more important in presidential elections, said political scientist David Kimball, an associate professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

But this year, pocketbook issues such as gas prices and energy concerns have started to trump overseas worries, making it so that foreign policy could play a smaller role than it did during the 2004 campaign.

Kimball said the support of veterans is used as an argument for who would make the best president and who is the most competent with foreign policy.

“Veteran support is also shorthand for who’s a good American,” he said. “Presidential campaigns try to outdo each other over who’s the more patriotic and getting veteran groups to endorse you is sort of part of that.”

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