Five veterans to battle GOP

WASHINGTON --- Georgia Democrats have assembled a group of five military veterans -- including three with experience in Iraq -- to challenge Republican congressmen from around the state in November.


The candidates are criticizing the incumbents on domestic issues such as the sluggish economy, but they also say they have the moral authority to challenge their opponents for giving President Bush lockstep support on the five-year war in Iraq.

"When you add all of the guys up together, we've probably got close to 75 years of combined military service," said Bill Jones, a former Air Force officer from Marietta who is planning to launch a campaign this week against Rep. Tom Price of Roswell. "I'm excited about the idea of veterans stepping up and representing the Democratic Party."

Mr. Jones, 53, and the other challengers face long odds. They are political newcomers with little name recognition, running in conservative districts that routinely elect Republicans by wide margins.

In all but one case, they face established incumbents with well-stocked campaign treasuries.

But they say they sense that voters are looking for something different. Some believe Barack Obama, if he's the Democratic presidential nominee, could add to that dynamic.

Despite public dissatisfaction with the war, Democratic veterans have not fared well as congressional candidates. In 2006, only a handful won seats, including just one Iraq veteran, Patrick Murphy, of Pennsylvania -- despite the party's boasting that more than 50 veterans were running.

Among the Georgia Republicans being challenged, Jack Kingston of Savannah, John Linder of Duluth, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Mr. Price each took roughly 70 percent of the vote in 2006. Paul Broun of Athens narrowly won his seat after the death of former Rep. Charlie Norwood, but his biggest challenge was from within the GOP.

Mr. Kingston said the challengers might get some initial attention as a result of their military service. But he said conservative voters will be turned off once they get to know the candidates' Democratic positions.

"If their views aren't consistent with the district, then they're not going to get very far," he said.


- Doug Heckman, 48, of Norcross, a West Point graduate and former Army colonel who served as a senior adviser to the Iraqi military in east Baghdad in 2006 and 2007. He is trying to unseat eight-term Rep. John Linder of Duluth.

- Bill Gillespie, 44, of Tybee Island, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who was a senior logistician during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Gillespie is challenging eight-term Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah.

- Bobby Saxon, 46, of Nicholson, an Army veteran and Georgia National Guard major who served with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq in 2005. Mr. Saxon, who runs a software consulting firm, is challenging Rep. Paul Broun of Athens.

- Bud Gammon, 57, of Rome, an Air Force Academy graduate and pilot during the tail end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Gammon, a commercial airline pilot, is running against three-term Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta.

-- Associated Press