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Overnight Defense: More veterans running for office, but numbers in Congress dwindling | Gunmen storm Kabul University, killing 19 | US forces rescue American hostage in Nigeria

Overnight Defense: More veterans running for office, but numbers in Congress dwindling | Gunmen storm Kabul University, killing 19 | US forces rescue American hostage in Nigeria
© Greg Nash

Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: Happy Election Day eve.

In the presidential race, President TrumpDonald TrumpIran's leader vows 'revenge,' posting an image resembling Trump Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Justice Dept. to probe sudden departure of US attorney in Atlanta after Trump criticism MORE and Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenRev. Barber says best way to undercut extremism is with honesty Biden requires international travelers to quarantine upon arrival to US Overnight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 MORE are offering starkly different closing messages. As The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant report, Trump sought to cater to his base with attacks on media figures and his political opponents, while Biden tried to appeal to a broader swath of Americans as he pledged to unite the country. 

Defense watchers may be interested in reading up on the congressional races involving veterans. Over the weekend, The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell took a look at how more veterans are running for House and Senate seats this year compared to recent election cycles.

But, because of a wave of retirements and entrenched politics, the next Congress is likely to see a decline in lawmakers with military service. 

More than 180 veterans are on the ballot Tuesday, up 5 percent from 2018, according to tracking from the University of San Francisco and Veterans Campaign, a nonprofit that helps veterans run for office. That figure includes 163 House nominees — the most since 2012 — and another 18 in the Senate, including double the number of women veterans compared to two years ago.

But with nearly 20 percent of veterans elected in 2018 retiring from Congress, with other incumbents facing tough reelection odds, Congress is likely to have fewer veterans when lawmakers are sworn in next year, said Veterans Campaign Executive Director Seth Lynn.

And despite the increase in veteran candidates, many are running long-shot campaigns in districts that lean heavily toward one political party.

“Military service experience is never going to trump the baseline partisanship of a district,” said Jeremy Teigen, a political science professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey who tracks military and veteran voting patterns. 

Spotlight races: In the Senate, one of the closest and highest-profile races this year features two veterans: Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed MORE (R-Ariz.), a former Air Force colonel who was appointed to her Senate seat, and Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, a retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut.

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan elections handicapper, rates the Arizona race as “lean Democratic.”

Another tight race features Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official Democrats torn on impeachment trial timing MORE, (R-Iowa), a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel facing a challenge from Theresa Greenfield (D), who has not served in the military.

Ernst was the first female combat veteran in the Senate, having served in Iraq.

The data website FiveThirtyEight as well as the Cook Political Report list the race as a toss-up.

Other female veterans seeking to join the Senate ranks for the first time include former Marine Corps fighter pilot Amy McGrath, the Democratic nominee in Kentucky challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE (R), and Democrat MJ Hegar, a former Army major and helicopter pilot who is hoping to unseat Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLimbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Top Texas Democratic Party staffers to step down after underwhelming election results K Street navigates virtual inauguration week MORE (R-Texas).

The Cook Political report lists the Kentucky race as “likely Republican,” with the Texas race “lean Republican.”

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsDrudge congratulates Warnock, says Ann Coulter should have been GOP candidate Warnock defeats Loeffler in Georgia Senate runoff Warnock says he needs to win 'by comfortable margin' because 'funny things go on' MORE (R-Ga.) is another veteran seeking a Senate seat. He is on the ballot Tuesday against Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerLimbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Suburbs pose challenge for GOP in post-Trump era Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority MORE (R) and others to serve out the rest of former Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonLoeffler concedes to Warnock Hawley to still object to Pennsylvania after Capitol breached Hillary Clinton trolls McConnell: 'Senate Minority Leader' MORE’s (R) term. That race is a toss-up.

Notable House races that include veterans include Democrat Jackie Gordon, who served 29 years in the Army and is running for the seat left vacant by retired Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.); Rep. Max RoseMax RoseWe lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money COVID-19 is wild card as Pelosi faces tricky Speaker vote Sunday Yang files to open campaign account for NYC mayor MORE (D-N.Y.), an Army veteran and current National Guard captain who is seeking reelection in a swing district; and Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, an Iraq War veteran and former Air Force intelligence officer who hopes to win the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHouse poised to override Trump veto for first time Lawmakers call for including creation of Latino, women's history museums in year-end spending deal House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit MORE (R-Texas).

The Gordon and Rose races are toss-ups, while the Texas district race is leaning Democrat.

GUNMAN STORM KABUL UNIVERSITY: Afghanistan and the world got a grim reminder Monday of the violence that still plagues the country with an attack on Kabul University that left at least 22 people dead.

Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said three gunmen stormed the worn-torn country’s largest university in an assault that lasted hours. At least 19 people were killed in the attack that ended with the three gunmen dead as well. Another 22 people were injured. 

Afghanistan’s branch of ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The Taliban denied responsibility.

Context: Monday’s attack demonstrated that violence in Afghanistan persists despite U.S.-led efforts to bring the 19-year war to a close and withdraw U.S. troops.

U.S. officials have issued repeated calls for a reduction in violence since the Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban calling for a full U.S. withdrawal by May.

The lead U.S. negotiator of the deal, Zalmay Khalilzad, left on a trip to the region last week. On Monday, Khalilzad was in Pakistan meeting with its army chief, according to the Pakistani army.

Congressional reaction: Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulUS ambassador to Israel Twitter account briefly includes West Bank, Gaza Biden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis Kremlin critic Navalny detained in Moscow upon return to Russia MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted he was “deeply saddened” by the Kabul University attack. 

“The extreme level of violence and tragic loss of life in Afghanistan cannot continue, and those responsible must be brought to justice,” he added in the tweet. “Terrorism has no place in a future stable and prosperous Afghanistan.”

ICYMI OVER THE WEEKEND … US FORCES RESCUE HOSTAGE IN NIGERIA: U.S. forces rescued an American citizen held hostage in northern Nigeria on Saturday, with Trump hailing the rescue mission as a “big win” for U.S. special forces.

“Big win for our very elite U.S. Special Forces today,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning. He followed up by praising the "courageous soldiers" who carried out the mission.

"Last night, our Country’s brave warriors rescued an American hostage in Nigeria. Our Nation salutes the courageous soldiers behind the daring nighttime rescue operation and celebrates the safe return of yet another American citizen!" he tweeted.

The Pentagon confirmed that it launched a successful operation early Saturday to free an American hostage held in northern Nigeria.

Officials did not initially name the rescued U.S. citizen, but multiple outlets identified the person as Philip Walton, 27. White House senior adviser Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpNRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers Trump extended Secret Service protection for family members in final days in office: report Trump expected to pardon Bannon: reports MORE and the National Counterterrorism Center later confirmed the hostage's identity on Twitter.

“U.S. forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of 31 October in Northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men. This American citizen is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department of State. No U.S military personnel were injured during the operation,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Democrats debate fate of Trump probes if Biden wins

-- The Hill: Trump leans into Israel policy ahead of election

-- The Hill: Opinion: Yes, nuclear war could still happen

-- Defense One: Helicopters over DC protesters broke regulations while commander was driving home, DC Guard concludes

-- Wall Street Journal: Pentagon drawdown at U.S. embassies prompts concern about ceding field to global rivals

-- New York Times: On Afghan highways, even the police fear the Taliban’s toll collectors