Originally created 09/22/96

Military service and the vote



John Tew believes fellow Vietnam veteran Max Cleland has earned a vote because he's been there, seen that and also paid the price.

Standing in the shade smoking a cigarette in front of the uptown Veterans Affairs Hospital in Augusta, wearing a camouflage hat and stroking his bushy blond mustache, Mr. Tew said he can't turn his back on a man who has seen what he's seen. Mr. Tew was in Vietnam from 1967-68, including surviving the Tet offensive; Mr. Cleland was horribly injured by a grenade in Vietnam, yet went on to become administrator of the VA and Georgia's secretary of state.

"Anyone who can come back from losing both legs and an arm deserves some respect," said Mr. Tew, 48, of Martinez. "I may not agree with everything he says, but he's done a lot."

And that also means he knows who he will NOT be voting for in the presidential race - President Clinton, whom he refers to as "Slick Willie" or just "Slick," a man he condemns for avoiding the Vietnam War. But just a few feet away in a wheelchair, Hosea David Hillman, 71, who saw action in the Philippines during World War II, said he couldn't hold that against Mr. Clinton.

"A lot of people didn't go," he said.

Republicans have their own wounded war hero in presidential candidate Bob Dole, who nearly died from injuries that have left his right arm withered and almost useless. But while Mr. Hillman admires Mr. Dole's courage, he doesn't think it will do him much good.

"I don't think there's anyone out there who can beat Bill Clinton," Mr. Hillman said.

His service will probably earn Mr. Dole a lot of votes in the Augusta area, home to thousands of military retirees, and elsewhere across Georgia, political scientists said. But unfortunately for Republicans, Mr. Cleland may benefit from the same vote, they said.

While U.S. Army Col. Frank Valentine is strongly for Mr. Dole and usually supports Republicans, Mr. Cleland's war record presents a dilemma for veterans like him.

"I think Max certainly has done his part," said Col. Valentine, who says he hasn't made up his mind on whether to support Mr. Cleland or Republican Guy Millner, a former Naval reservist.

Even Mr. Millner has praised Mr. Cleland's service. The military issue he is concerned about is a strong defense, he said, jumping on a comment Mr. Cleland made about a lack of a nuclear threat to the country to characterize Mr. Cleland as "soft on defense. He's opposed to the B-52 bombers. He's opposed to the (Strategic Defense Initiative). This is an important part of the state for defense."

And that's what's important now, said Georgia Republican Party spokesman Matt Metcalf.

"(Voters) find that more enlightening than something that happened 50 years ago on some battlefield in Italy or some 20 years ago on a battlefield in Vietnam," Mr. Metcalf said.

Mr. Cleland's campaign did not return calls this week seeking comment. He has told The Augusta Chronicle in the past that he considers Fort Gordon his "alma mater" and would seek retiring Sen. Sam Nunn's seat on the Armed Services Committee.

In television ads that began airing about 10 days ago, Mr. Cleland talks about recovering from his wounds and in one scene is shown saluting the flag. What will really help Mr. Cleland is not so much what happened during the war but what he has done after, said Dr. Charles Walker, political science professor at Augusta State University. Particularly his service at the VA, he said.

"A lot of (Republican) veterans will switch over and vote for Cleland because of this work with the VA," Dr. Walker said.

And while military issues are important in Georgia and will certainly benefit Mr. Dole, there is another kind of security that will probably work to Mr. Clinton's advantage, Dr. Bullock said.

"What we can expect from our president is to give us economic security," Dr. Bullock said. "That's No. 1."