View Full Version : A Marine Jumps Party Lines to Join Democrats in Trenches

04-21-04, 10:27 AM
A Marine Jumps Party Lines to Join Democrats in Trenches

The Wall Street Journal
| April 21, 2004 | MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS

WESTFIELD, N.J. -- On a Friday afternoon last April, a couple of weeks after he returned from Iraq, Marine Lt. Col. Steve Brozak walked into the town hall here and changed his voter registration from Republican to Democrat.

That put Mr. Brozak in the middle of Democratic efforts to chip away at Republicans' political strength on national-security matters. With Vietnam veteran John Kerry at the top of the ticket and unease growing over the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and terrorism, Democrats are hoping to tap a new constituency: members of the military and veterans, who vote overwhelmingly Republican.

It's a mission being embraced by the 42-year-old Mr. Brozak, now running for Congress in a well-to-do swath of suburban New Jersey. A social moderate and fiscal conservative, he's emerging as the Democrats' dream challenger to an entrenched Republican. The son of immigrants, he's an investment banker specializing in biotechnology companies and a Marine who has served three years on active duty and 18 years in the Reserve, including brief volunteer deployments to Haiti, Bosnia, Kuwait and Iraq.

"Unfortunately, not many members of Congress know what it is to serve," Mr. Brozak told a dozen aging veterans at the Reo Diner in Woodbridge recently. But, he added, "they're very quick to commit" U.S. troops to combat.

Jim Bird, a white-haired 85-year-old who called the waitress "Honeybun," opened his wallet and handed Mr. Brozak a card. It read "Silver Star Association," a testament to Mr. Bird's bravery in Italy in World War II. "I'm a registered Republican who is thoroughly disgusted with what's going on in Washington," he said. "That's why I'm here."

Mr. Brozak's uphill bid to unseat an incumbent comes at a crucial point in the presidential campaign. While Mr. Bush is running even with Mr. Kerry, pro-Bush strategists fear that a failure to demonstrate progress in Iraq could lead a decisive bloc of Republicans and independents to lose confidence in the president's leadership. If that happens, the beneficiaries could include dark-horse candidates such as Mr. Brozak.

At the same time, some observers say there's little evidence so far that Mr. Bush is in trouble with military voters. "People have been looking for Bush to lose the hearts and minds of the military," says Duke University political scientist Peter D. Feaver, a former Navy reservist and Clinton national-security aide. "When you look at systematic data, it doesn't show up."

Mr. Brozak isn't against the Iraq war, and he opposes a withdrawal. But, like Mr. Kerry, he criticizes the Bush administration for failing to assemble an overwhelming international coalition for the invasion, saying the effort to rebuild Iraq may be doomed by inadequate forces and inept planning. His opponent, Mike Ferguson, who was elected in 2000 and didn't serve in the military, is playing up his support of Mr. Bush. "I've stood shoulder to shoulder with the president and with my colleagues in the Congress as we wage this war on terrorism," he says.

Mr. Ferguson's aides say they aren't worried, and that constituents are more focused on their boss's staunch support for tax cuts than on foreign-policy debates. For years, New Jersey's 7th district has sent Republicans to the House.

Mr. Brozak, who plans to retire from the Reserve May 1, began turning against the Republican Party during the South Carolina primary in 2000, when a Bush ally accused Sen. John McCain of neglecting his fellow Vietnam veterans. Mr. Brozak grew even angrier in 2002, when Republican Saxby Chambliss, aided by President Bush, defeated Democratic Georgia Sen. Max Cleland in a bitter campaign. Ads for Mr. Chambliss implicitly questioned the patriotism of Mr. Cleland -- who lost three limbs serving in Vietnam.

When Mr. Brozak decided to change his party affiliation, the only person he told ahead of time was his father, an immigrant who had piloted a fighter plane in a brief uprising against the Nazi occupation of his native Yugoslavia and wound up in a slave-labor camp. Later, he found himself discussing the war with a Marine buddy, who told Mr. Brozak he sounded as if he were campaigning. The idea stuck, Mr. Brozak says, and he decided to discuss running with New Jersey and national Democrats.

These days, Mr. Brozak is especially angry about the administration's treatment of National Guard and Reserve troops, the traditional weekend warriors who now find themselves deployed for years. Within the next few months, 70% of the 7,000 members of the New Jersey Army National Guard will be on active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sinai Peninsula or elsewhere -- a higher share than at any time since World War II.

In the Marines, Mr. Brozak served as an infantry commander and public-affairs officer. His last post was as liaison with companies whose employees had been called up for duty. When he went to Kuwait and Iraq a year ago, he accompanied a survey team assessing how deployment affects citizen-soldiers. The survey found a third of the troops expected to pay a heavy price: lost jobs, lost businesses, lost promotions, lost income.

"As bad as it is for people in this economy, it's twice as bad for the guard, reserve" and active-duty military, Mr. Brozak told a political action committee of service-academy graduates at a meeting last month aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid. Despite legal safeguards, many of them aren't guaranteed a job when they return, he says. He believes the regular military should be beefed up to take the stress off the part-timers.

Mr. Brozak says he has been fortunate with his small investment bank, Westfield Bakerink Brozak, which researches and invests in medical devices and biotechnology. Whenever he has been called up for active duty, his partner has taken up the slack.

The 33-year-old Mr. Ferguson is also stressing his concern for the troops. He visited Baghdad for several hours in January and hand-delivered fourth-graders' letters to the soldiers. He highlights his votes to raise military salaries, combat pay and family-separation allowances. And he is reaching out to the New Jersey National Guard troops who are about to be called up. "There are people doing extraordinary work and making extraordinary sacrifices," Mr. Ferguson says.

Mr. Ferguson's aides say the congressman, who won 58% of the vote in 2002 after a squeaker in 2000, hasn't started campaigning in earnest yet. He had raised $1.3 million, as of March 31.

Nonetheless, a poll paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in February suggested Mr. Ferguson is vulnerable. The poll, which the Democrats won't release, convinced them that voters would welcome a candidate who, like Mr. Brozak, supports abortion rights and boasts military and business credentials.

Mr. Brozak, who had raised just under $150,000 at the end of last month, estimates it will cost up to $2 million to mount a credible campaign in the pricey New York-area media market. If Mr. Brozak's poll numbers look good in September, the Democratic campaign committee plans to spend as much as $1 million in independent advertising and other support.

To broaden his message, Mr. Brozak, in remarks in Cranford recently, talked of unemployment, taxes and health care.

But it's his experience in uniform that gives him an opening with voters. At the Reo Diner, Bob Borst of Rahway, a 71-year-old Korean War veteran who usually votes Republican, told Mr. Brozak that he's "going Democratic" this time. "We're losing too many boys," he said.


d c taveapont
04-21-04, 01:35 PM
Every one in this world and U.S.A can change their party lines for what they beleive in....Amen to that brother Marine

04-21-04, 04:51 PM
So right.
Dems and Republicans both need a spanking for playing such vile politics.