Three USAF Vets in Unsettled Races as Total Number of Vets in Congress Falls Again

Three USAF veterans are still fighting for a seat in Congress, with races still too close to call after Tuesday's mid-term election. From left to right: Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), and Gina Ortiz Jones (D-Texas). Facebook, USAF and photos. Compilation by Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory.

Of 33 Air Force veterans running in the Nov. 6 election, about half won—and three remain in limbo, with results still too close to call.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who gave up her House seat to run for the Senate, had 49.3 percent of the vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting, while Democratic challenger Kyrsten Sinema had 48.4 percent.

McSally—an Air Force Academy graduate and former A-10 pilot—blasted through several glass ceilings over her 26-year career, becoming the first American female fighter pilot ever to fly in combat and also the first to command a fighter squadron in combat. After retiring in 2010 as a colonel, McSally was elected to represent Arizona’s second district in 2015 and has served on the House Armed Services Committee.

Meanwhile, the race between Air Force vet and Republican incumbent Jeff Denham and Democrat Josh Harder for California’s 10th District is also still too close to call. At this writing, Denham had the edge, 50.57 percent to 49.43 percent. Denham, who split 16 years on Active Duty and in the Reserve, fought in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Restore Hope in Iraq and Somalia. He was elected to the House in 2010 and is serving his fourth term in Congress.

In Texas, fewer than 700 votes stand between USAF veteran and Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones and the Republican incumbent Will Hurd. As of Wednesday afternoon, Hurd had the edge, in Texas’ 23rd District, 49.1 percent, or 102,903 votes, to 48.8 percent, or 102,214 votes.

Both Jones and Hurd have intelligence backgrounds. Jones was an Active Duty USAF intelligence officer who served in Iraq and then as an advisor on military operations in Latin America and Africa. Hurd served nine years in the CIA in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Washington.

Elsewhere, 14 Air Force veterans won House races Nov. 6, including 12 incumbents and two newcomers.


  • Tedd Lieu (D-Calif.)
  • Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.)
  • Doug Collins (R-Ga.)
  • Barry Laudermilk (R-Ga.)
  • Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)
  • Don Bacon (R-Neb.)
  • Bill Johnson (R-Ohio)
  • Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)
  • Scott Perry (R-Pa.)
  • Brian Babin (R-Texas)
  • Chris Stewart (R-Utah)
  • Ralph Abraham (R-La.)


  • Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) defeated Democratic incumbent Leslie Cockburn
  • Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) ousted Republican incumbent Greg McCauley

Fifteen other Air Force vets vying for a first-time seat in the House lost, including 12 Republicans and three Democrats.

In the Senate, Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), held on to his seat. Wicker, who was the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, is a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who served on both Active Duty and in the Reserve.

In all, 77 veterans were elected and will join 15 senators whose seats were not up for grabs in 2018; that means the 116th Congress convening in January will have about 92 veterans, down from 102 in the 115th Congress, in session until January. By contrast, in the mid-1970s, nearly three-quarters of Congress had military experience, a number that continues to steadily decline, even after 20 years of nearly continuous combat.