COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- After 20 years in the Air Force and Bronze Star service during the 1991 Gulf War, Jay Fawcett, a Democrat, decided to come home and run for Congress, largely out of disgust with the way American troops were being used in Iraq.
''I think it's just gotten to the point where a significant number of us who've served are looking at this administration particularly -- and Congress doesn't get off the hook -- and saying: 'What're you doing? What's the plan?' " he said.
Fawcett is part of a large and possibly unprecedented number of former soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines running for Congress this year.
About 40 of the candidates are Republicans, while at least 55 are Democrats. By one count, at least 11 veterans of the Iraq war or Afghanistan are hoping to get elected to the House or Senate, all but one of them Democrats.
The fighting Democrats, as some call themselves, say their military experience could give them the credibility to criticize the war without being dismissed out of hand by the GOP as naïve and weak on defense, as the Bush administration has often done.
''One of the things I think is behind this movement is, we're not stupid in the military. We know when we've been used and misused," said Navy veteran Bill Winter, a Democrat who hopes to challenge Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican, in the GOP-dominated suburbs of Denver.
Former senator Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat who lost both legs and an arm while serving in Vietnam, said the Iraq war veterans running as Democrats will offer ''a direct rebuttal" to the administration on the Iraq war.
''This administration, come April, will be going into the fourth year of this war after the president said three weeks into it 'Major combat over, mission accomplished. Bring them on,' " Cleland said. ''You tell me who's out of touch. It's not these Iraqi veterans that are coming back and saying, 'This is not the way it was on the ground there, and I'm going to do something to change this.' "
Fawcett, who spent years as a defense contractor after leaving the Air Force, wants to take on Representative Joel Hefley, a Republican, in a Colorado Springs-area district that has one of the country's biggest concentrations of veterans. It includes the Air Force Academy, two Air Force bases, a major Army installation, and North American Aerospace Defense Command. The district has been represented by a Republican since the seat was created more than three decades ago.
The roster of Democratic veterans includes engineers, teachers, lawyers, business owners, and a pastor. Their stands on the war range from calling for immediate withdrawal to demanding a clearer timetable and an exit strategy. Fawcett, for example, said that pulling out now would be a mistake, but that the Bush administration has failed to clearly state its goals and an exit plan.
Among other veterans running for office:
Marine Reservist Paul Hackett, who served in Iraq and is running for the Senate in Ohio.
Former Army major L. Tammy Duckworth, a helicopter pilot who lost her legs in a grenade attack in Iraq. She is campaigning as a Democrat for the Illinois congressional seat of retiring Representative Henry Hyde, a Republican. She said she disagreed with Bush's decision to invade Iraq but still volunteered to serve.
Eric Massa, a Democrat and 24-year Navy officer challenging freshman Representative Randy Kuhl, a Republican, in western New York.
Elections after World War II and the Vietnam War also saw large numbers of veterans running for Congress.