McChrystal wades into midterm races

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Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal has a newfound interest in politics ahead of this year’s midterms, increasing speculation that he might run for office himself one day.

Earlier this month, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan backed Massachusetts House challenger Seth Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran who is running against Democratic Rep. John Tierney in the Sept. 9 primary.

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Speaking at a campaign event for Moulton, the four-star general said he did not belong to any political party and had never endorsed a candidate before. 

“But I thought it was time to change it and change it for one person,” McChrystal said.

 A week later, he also announced his support for retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Irv Halter (D), who is trying to unseat Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn.

 “I trust people that prove to me their character, and I trust Irv like few others. If we can follow leaders like Irv Halter, we’ll do well,” McChrystal said in a statement backing the longshot Democratic challenger. 

It’s the first overtly political foray for McChrystal since he was forced to resign as the leader of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2010 in the wake of a Rolling Stone article where he made disparaging comments about the Obama administration’s strategy in the country.

Former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress, said the endorsements are a natural extension of McChrystal’s commitment to public service, similar to his work with the Franklin Project at The Aspen Institute, which encourages a year of national service among young people. 

“Whether or not that translates into him running for public office is hard for me to say, but he’s never brought that up to me, and I don’t think that’s his motivation behind it,” Murphy told The Hill. 

McChrystal’s endorsements for both veterans come from personal ties to the two challengers.

Moulton, who served four tours in Iraq, didn’t meet McChrystal until he was attending graduate school at Harvard University.

“We got to know each other because we share a belief in national service,” Moulton told The Hill, adding that he didn’t specifically ask for McChrystal’s endorsement. Nonetheless, the former general has appeared at one public event and two fundraisers for Moulton.

Tierney is one of GOP’s top targets this fall, facing a looming rematch with Republican Richard Tisei. Two years ago, he faced ethics questions stemming from his in-law’s gambling convictions, and he narrowly edged out Tisei. Last year, the House Ethics Committee dropped its investigation into whether Tierney failed to disclose his wife’s income on financial disclosure forms. 

Though Moulton is running competitively with Tierney, McChrystal hasn’t been critical of the incumbent. Moulton says he speaks to McChrystal every two weeks about the campaign and leadership. MyChrystal has become one of his mentors.

“There’s no question the McChrystal endorsement got Seth Moulton the most coverage he’s had to date. Period. End of sentence. Nothing else has been close,” according to Massachusetts-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh.

The general’s stamp of approval will likely help Moulton pick up more elderly voters and veterans in the upcoming primary, where turnout is expected to be exceedingly low. But the race between the two is hard to handicap because of “precious little polling available” on the race, according to Marsh.  

If Moulton does defeat Tierney, Marsh said she would “be surprised if he didn’t bring McChrystal back in” for the general election against Tisei in a bid to win over unenrolled voters.

In Halter’s case, the two men served together in Afghanistan as well as several rotations on the U.S. Joint Staff at the Pentagon, and he approached McChrystal for his support. 

However, there is “no implied plan to do anything more” for the campaign, according to Halter.

While the retired general’s endorsements generated headlines for both candidates, a national military figure like McChrystal might not have much of an impact. 

McChrystal himself has been adamant that he does not want to run for office, but both Moulton and Halter said they would welcome that idea.

“I think that, like a lot of people, he feels that things in Washington have gotten so bad, it’s time for him to stand up and get involved,” Moulton said.

Asked if McChrystal should run one day, Moulton replied that the retired general is “one of the best leaders I’ve ever known, and we certainly need better leaders in government.”

Halter said he “certainly didn’t get the view that [McChrystal] is looking to do that himself.”

On the other hand, “Stan McChrystal’s a leader. Our government needs leaders, so from that perspective, sure,” he added.

Murphy said if McChrystal does run, “he has a heck of a lot to offer” and predicted the Rolling Stone article wouldn’t be an issue.

“If he called me and said, ‘I’m running for office,’ I’d be the first to sign up to help him,” according to Murphy, who served with McChrystal’s brother at West Point.

McChrystal’s sudden interest in politics is a positive development for veterans, Murphy added, noting that only about 20 percent of congressional lawmakers today have served in the military, down from nearly 80 percent 40 years ago. 

“He’s not running against anybody. He’s running and supporting people he believes in,” Murphy said. “Most of us in the military would run through a brick wall for each other.”

A spokeswoman for the McChrystal Group, the retired general’s business services firm, said he is traveling this week and could not respond to questions submitted by The Hill.

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