Combat veteran Sowers calls for end to wars in bid for House seat in Missouri

Tommy Sowers is a combat veteran on a new mission: to represent the 8th district of Missouri as a Democrat. But the London School of Economics grad is waging an uphill battle against Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R).
By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 12, 2010; 12:31 AM

GAINESVILLE, MO. - The 34-year-old former Army Green Beret ran across the street and bounded up the packed bleachers at the Hootin' and Hollarin' parade. Spots of sweat dotted his blue button-down shirt.

"I think we've got to end that war in Afghanistan," Tommy Sowers shouted as he balanced a large American flag on his shoulder. "We've been there too long."

His push to end the war appeared to make little impression on the audience, which had come for a day of hog calling, square dancing and outhouse races.

A combat veteran with a graduate degree from the London School of Economics, Sowers gave up a successful military career to mount a longshot bid as a Democrat for a congressional seat in a solidly Republican district. He was motivated by a sense that Congress and the public have lost interest in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Popular indifference has become a defining feature of the nation's near-decade at war, and is also Sowers's biggest enemy on the campaign trail three weeks before the midterm elections. Very few Americans - about one in 20 - said war is the country's most pressing issue when asked by Gallup last month.

Troops, their families, and their superiors say that their sacrifices are poorly understood. "For most Americans, the wars remain an abstraction - a distant and unpleasant series of news items that do not affect them personally," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates lamented in a recent speech at Duke University. Military service, he said, has "become something for other people to do."

Sowers's call for greater congressional oversight has become a common theme among frustrated troops. Active-duty officers are writing about it with surprising frequency in military journals, and other veterans running for office are raising the subject on the campaign trail.

Retired Col. Chris Gibson, who gave up command of a 3,500-soldier infantry brigade this year to run for Congress as a Republican in Upstate New York, recently called for a declaration of war on al-Qaeda. After Sept. 11, 2001, Congress instead passed a less definitive resolution authorizing the president to use force against the parties responsible for the terrorist attacks.

"When the people's representatives have to go on record and vote, it transforms our country," said Gibson, who supports the troop increase in Afghanistan. "It is a full recognition that we are in a state of war."

'Never forgetting'

Sowers strode into VFW Post 5896 in Farmington, Mo., where about 40 vets had gathered for National POW/MIA Recognition Day. It was the first of three stops on a 430-mile swing through his district.

To hit all the spots in one day the candidate had rented a small propeller plane. Sowers's strong military record and his energy have helped him raise about $1 million, a larger war chest than those of the past eight Democratic nominees in the district combined. Most of his donors are from outside of Missouri.

Inside the small brick post, cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air. The average age of the audience members was about 75.

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