PORTLAND, Maine — Joined by fellow military veterans, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Summers on Tuesday touted himself as someone who understands their needs and as the only leading candidate in the Senate race to have spent time in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Navy Reservist rolled out his Veterans Coalition at stops in Caribou and Bangor before a final event Tuesday in Portland at a pizzeria that’s owned by a former Navy SEAL.
While all the candidates support veterans, Summers said his personal experiences give him a better understanding of veterans dealing with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and joblessness.
“I can take their concerns, because they’re my concerns, to the U.S. Senate and advocate on their behalf,” said Summers, pointing out that Maine has the fourth-highest percentage of veterans.
Summers, Maine’s secretary of state, is battling independent former Gov. Angus King and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill in the race for to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe.
King, who says he wants to bridge the gap between the two parties, said legislation affecting veterans often gets tied up in the bitter partisan divide, and he pointed out Tuesday that a measure that was blocked last week on a procedural vote could have created 20,000 jobs for veterans.
He chided Summers over his view that Congress isn’t broken, suggesting that major parties are unwilling to meet halfway to get anything accomplished. “Compromise is not an affliction, but an important aspect of the political process,” he said.
Speaking in Portland, Summers said Maine has a tradition of senators who’ve been able to reach bipartisan consensus despite belonging to a party. And he suggested that the nation’s economic problems are so glaring that partisanship bickering will have to fall by the wayside.
Summers said his time as a public affairs officer in war zones taught him some valuable lessons, like the importance of drones in allowing military personnel to get a good night’s rest. He said Iraqi insurgents didn’t dare to fire mortars at the Green Zone on clear nights when the drones were in the air.
And in Afghanistan, Summers served a stint with special operations personnel, accompanying them on missions and coming under fire once during a meeting with village elders in western Afghanistan.
Chris Tyll, a former Navy SEAL and owner of Pat’s Pizza in Portland, said Summers will see to it that veterans get the services they need and work to eliminate the current backlogs at VA facilities. He also said Summers, as a veteran, will think long and hard before putting military personnel in harm’s way.
Tyll, who served four tours in Iraq and came home with injuries, said veterans respect Summers’ service.
“Charlie doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not. He’s a public affairs officer. He wasn’t Rambo. He’s comfortable with the role that he played,” he said.
Summers isn’t the only veteran in the race. A lesser-known independent, Danny Dalton of Brunswick, served in both the Air Force and Army and worked as a contractor in Iraq and Pakistan. Two other independents, Steve Woods of Yarmouth and Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell, will also appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Dalton said his experience in the military and as a security contractor and drug enforcement agent have taught him tough lessons about how easily taxpayer dollars are wasted. He suggested Summers will merely continue the status quo instead of fighting to cut defense spending and eliminate waste.
“He doesn’t want to talk about the incompetence of the military because the military industrial complex supports the Republican Party,” Dalton said.