The election results are all but in for the 196 veterans running for Congress this cycle, with at least 81 winning their respective races as of Friday.
The total marks the largest group of individuals who have served in the military and have won office in a decade.
When added to the 12 incumbent senators who are veterans and were not up for reelection this year – and taking into account one undecided race in New York that involves two former service members going up against each another – that means at least 94 lawmakers with prior military experience will be a part of the 118th Congress starting January.
Though 11 races involving former service members are still to be called, the current tally means more veteran lawmakers will serve in Congress starting in 2023 than any other time in the past 10 years. The figure just squeezes past the 91 members with prior military experience who served at the start of the 117th Congress two years ago.
What’s more, that number of 94 could rise to closer to 100 – nearly 20 percent of Congress – as several undecided races seem to be leaning in favor of veteran candidates.
The last time more wins happened was in 2012, when 84 veterans won a Congressional seat.
“This is the first election since the Vietnam War where congressional military service has significantly increased,”said Seth Lynn, a University of San Francisco adjunct professor and founder of Veterans Campaign, an organization which studies veterans in public office.
The number of veterans in Congress has been declining steadily since the late 1960s, when a large majority of representatives and senators had served in the likes of World War I and II.
But U.S. public perception of the military began to deteriorate with the Vietnam War and didn’t shift until after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when military service was suddenly viewed more positively and support for service members persisted even as support for the Afghanistan War did not, Lynn said.
This election cycle saw a major surge of veterans from the wars of the 1990s and those following the attacks of 9/11, with one in five individuals on the November ballots having served, according to Pew Research Center.
Lynn told The Hill that the uptick in veterans in Congress has been building for some time, “as Iraq and Afghanistan vets have been running and winning in increasingly large numbers.”
Though that increase has been somewhat offset by the fact that veterans were also retiring from Congress or were not reelected – including at least 13 in 2022 – in recent years, veterans have been winning elections at a much higher rate than was the case before 9/11, Lynn said.
“I think this is the result of a fairly significant shift in our country’s civil-military relationship,” he explained of the increase in veterans running and winning. “Voters seem to place a greater value on military service, and military veterans report a greater interest in post-military public service.”
The influx of veterans running was so great that numerous House and Senate races in the midterms involved two veterans going head-to-head for a congressional seat.
Incumbent Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a Naval Academy graduate who served in the Marine Corps, beat out Thomas McDermott Jr., who served in the Navy aboard a nuclear submarine for six years.
Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a 20-year Navy veteran and prominent House Armed Services Committee member, was unseated by former Navy helicopter pilot Jen Kiggans, a Republican Virginia state senator.
Other high-profile wins include Republican Rep.-elect Ryan Zinke, a former Navy SEAL who served as Interior Secretary during the Trump administration. He won Montana’s First Congressional District.
Another former Navy SEAL, Republican Rep.-elect Derrick Van Orden, won Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District even though he was a more controversial candidate. Van Orden has admitted he rallied at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but said he never went inside the Capitol Building.
In Florida’s 13th Congressional District, Republican Rep.-elect Anna Paulina Luna, an Air Force veteran whose campaign heavily drew on her past service, handily beat former Defense Department official and Democrat Eric Lynn.
Veteran-involved contests that are yet undecided include the battle for a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona between former astronaut and Navy pilot Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), and Blake Masters, a venture capitalist.
Kelly, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is currently ahead of Masters, though the race has yet to be called.
In New York’s 22nd congressional district, Republican Brandon Williams, formerly in the Navy, hopes to beat Democrat Francis Conole, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Iraq War veteran. The race has been too close to call as of Friday.
When split between the two major political parties, veterans are overwhelmingly represented by the GOP as opposed to Democrats. Of the 93 veterans set to serve in Congress next year, 70 will be Republican members and 23 Democratic, a ratio of three to one.