Veterans for Obama decry new McCain ads

By Stephanie Clary

Sen. John McCain’s latest TV ad questioning Sen. Barack Obama’s support of U.S. troops prompted a half-dozen Colorado veterans to rally in support of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee on Monday, July 21, at the Veterans Monument on the grounds of the Capitol.

Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and retired U.S. Army Capt. Jason Crow, of Denver, said a “series of negative campaign attacks Sen. McCain waged against Sen. Obama” have emerged recently, and that “it’s time to set the record straight.”

“Sen. Obama has the right plan for vets and national security,” he said.

The McCain ad, which started airing July 18, features photos of Obama alongside critical quotes from newspapers as a narrator says: “Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan. He hasn’t been to Iraq in years. He voted against funding our troops — positions that helped him win his nomination. Now Obama is changing to help himself become president. John McCain has always supported our troops and the surge that’s working. McCain: Country first.”

The ad ends with McCain stating, “I’m John McCain, and I approve this message” as his photo is seen in front of a U.S. flag.

The gathering occurred on the same day Obama arrived in Baghdad to meet with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Air Force Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, of Colorado Springs, the Democratic candidate for the 5th Congressional District, said the timing was coincidental.

Bidlack stressed that the veterans had not called the rally because they wanted to attack the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, but because they abhorred McCain’s campaign tactics.

“Sen. McCain has dishonored himself,” Bidlack said.

Bidlack said the ad wrongly implies that McCain has been more involved in Senate committee hearings on the war in Iraq than Obama has.

McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has missed all six of its hearings on Afghanistan. Obama is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairs the subcommittee on European affairs, giving him the ability to call a hearing on Afghanistan. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has held three hearings on Afghanistan in the past two years; Obama attended one of them.

“You can have as many American flags behind you as you want,” Bidlack said. “At the end of the day, what a person does is a better demonstration (of who they are) than what they say.”

Bidlack said he — like other Democrats — supports Obama’s desire to take the focus off the war in Iraq and to refocus on Afghanistan.

The veterans criticized McCain’s attacks on Obama’s voting record, noting Obama voted for the new GI Bill, but McCain opposed it.

“Sen. McCain recently did not support the 2008 GI Bill,” said retired Marine Capt. Rick Duncan, of Denver, founder of the Colorado Veterans Alliance. Duncan served three tours in Iraq, where he was injured in an explosion.

“He could not be bothered to vote for or against it,” said Duncan, as the flag he was carrying gently fluttered in a light breeze.

McCain was absent when the Senate approved the bill, which updated the original GI Bill by boosting higher education benefits for veterans. The new bill underwrites the cost of four years at a public university for GIs who have served at least three years of active duty.

McCain has said he opposed the bill because he feared soldiers would enlist for only a short period just to gain the benefits.

“I think that Sen. McCain’s nonsupport of the 2008 GI Bill is a failure to our nation’s veterans,” said Duncan.

Duncan said the Colorado Veterans Alliance represents 32,000 post-9/11 veterans and active duty service members in Colorado. He said the organization’s polls and fundraising trends indicate “overwhelming” support of Obama.

He said he has observed that veterans who start out supporting McCain tend to change their alliance to Obama when they’re told McCain skipped the GI Bill vote in order to attend a fundraising event in

Vietnam veteran Jim Hudson, of Aurora, also spoke out against McCain and in support of Obama.

Hudson said McCain failed to support several bills on veteran health issues.

“I think a lot of it has to do with fiscal conservatism … and links to corporations,” he said, when asked why he thought McCain had voted against such legislation.

This wasn’t the first time Hudson, who was a combat reporter in Vietnam and spent three years in the Army, has publicly criticized McCain on his voting record.

He was present at a town hall meeting McCain held July 7 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Hudson butted heads with McCain during a question-and-answer session, demanding to know why the senator had opposed an increase in health care funding for veterans four years in a row.

McCain had responded by asserting that he had a “perfect record” on veterans’ issues.

Hudson said he, like Bidlack, likes the Illinois senator’s history of opposing the war in Iraq. He noted that Obama had opposed involvement in Iraq before the invasion.

“I think the main myth is that a Democrat isn’t strong on defense,” Hudson later added. “Being strong on defense is knowing when to go to war.”