WASHINGTON — Brandon Ziegler served two tours in Iraq and wears a bracelet inscribed with the name of an Army buddy who never made it home. Jim Morin saw action in Iraq and Afghanistan and has lost several friends to the war in Iraq, the latest just a month ago.
Both say their choice in the 2008 presidential election is clear: For Ziegler it will be John McCain; for Morin it will be Barack Obama.
Those viewing the presidential race through the lens of military service can see it entirely differently: The desire to get out of Iraq quickly is balanced against the hope to see the country stabilized; respect for one candidate's storied military history is weighed against another's relative youth; concern about the war's drain on the U.S. Treasury is measured against the wish for expanded benefits for new veterans.
McCain, with a family tradition of military service and his own history as a Vietnam prisoner of war, holds natural appeal for members of the military and for veterans.
An AP-Yahoo News poll conducted last month found that veterans favored McCain over Obama 49 percent to 32 percent, while the two candidates ran about even in the population as a whole.
Nonetheless, dissatisfaction with the course of the war under President Bush and with the treatment of veterans returning home has given Obama, who did not serve in the armed forces, an opening with military voters and veterans. So does his appeal to younger people.
Ziegler, interviewed at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania after a class, sees three reasons to vote for McCain entwined in the Republican's military service:
He connects to McCain as a war veteran, believes it makes sense during wartime to have a president who's served, and said McCain's POW history speaks to the quality of his character.
As for Obama, said Ziegler: "He's new and he's young. He's got what seem like new ideas. I don't think now's the right time for that, being that we are in Iraq."
Morin, whose 10 years in the military included four years as a West Point cadet, said Obama has the most "comprehensive solutions to complex problems" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He also said he was disappointed by McCain's opposition to an expansion of the GI bill that would offer full military scholarships for those who serve three years in the military.
"I have a lot of respect for McCain," said Morin. But then he added: "I don't think he has anything new to offer."