Meet Steve Brozak, who may have a major role to play in the Democrats' efforts to win back the House in November.
WESTFIELD, N.J. -- On a Friday afternoon last April, a couple of weeks after he returned from Iraq, Marine Lt. Col. Steve Brozak walked into the town hall here and changed his voter registration from Republican to Democrat.
That put Mr. Brozak in the middle of Democratic efforts to chip away at Republicans' political strength on national-security matters. With Vietnam veteran John Kerry at the top of the ticket and unease growing over the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and terrorism, Democrats are hoping to tap a new constituency: members of the military and veterans, who vote overwhelmingly Republican.
It's a mission being embraced by the 42-year-old Mr. Brozak, now running for Congress in a well-to-do swath of suburban New Jersey. A social moderate and fiscal conservative, he's emerging as the Democrats' dream challenger to an entrenched Republican. The son of immigrants, he's an investment banker specializing in biotechnology companies and a Marine who has served three years on active duty and 18 years in the Reserve, including brief volunteer deployments to Haiti, Bosnia, Kuwait and Iraq.
Mr. Brozak, who plans to retire from the Reserve May 1, began turning against the Republican Party during the South Carolina primary in 2000, when a Bush ally accused Sen. John McCain of neglecting his fellow Vietnam veterans. Mr. Brozak grew even angrier in 2002, when Republican Saxby Chambliss, aided by President Bush, defeated Democratic Georgia Sen. Max Cleland in a bitter campaign. Ads for Mr. Chambliss implicitly questioned the patriotism of Mr. Cleland -- who lost three limbs serving in Vietnam.
When Mr. Brozak decided to change his party affiliation, the only person he told ahead of time was his father, an immigrant who had piloted a fighter plane in a brief uprising against the Nazi occupation of his native Yugoslavia and wound up in a slave-labor camp. Later, he found himself discussing the war with a Marine buddy, who told Mr. Brozak he sounded as if he were campaigning. The idea stuck, Mr. Brozak says, and he decided to discuss running with New Jersey and national Democrats.
These days, Mr. Brozak is especially angry about the administration's treatment of National Guard and Reserve troops, the traditional weekend warriors who now find themselves deployed for years. Within the next few months, 70% of the 7,000 members of the New Jersey Army National Guard will be on active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sinai Peninsula or elsewhere -- a higher share than at any time since World War II.
In the Marines, Mr. Brozak served as an infantry commander and public-affairs officer. His last post was as liaison with companies whose employees had been called up for duty. When he went to Kuwait and Iraq a year ago, he accompanied a survey team assessing how deployment affects citizen-soldiers. The survey found a third of the troops expected to pay a heavy price: lost jobs, lost businesses, lost promotions, lost income.
"As bad as it is for people in this economy, it's twice as bad for the guard, reserve" and active-duty military, Mr. Brozak told a political action committee of service-academy graduates at a meeting last month aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid. Despite legal safeguards, many of them aren't guaranteed a job when they return, he says. He believes the regular military should be beefed up to take the stress off the part-timers.