He may be competing against a retired Army general (among others) but attorney Bryant “Corky” Messner is making veterans a central element of his GOP Senate primary race. In part, he says, because incumbent Jeanne Shaheen “isn’t getting the job done.”
On Thursday the West Point grad hosted a roundtable on veterans issues, accompanied by two of his classmates, Army generals Gen. John F. Campbell (Ret.) and Lt. Gen. David Halverson (Ret.). Both are highly decorated soldiers, and both spoke highly of their one-time fellow plebe.
“Veterans need someone in Washington who can bring the two sides together and get things done for them–and he can do it,” Campbell said of Messner, which was as partisan as the roundtable got. Instead, the three veterans (Messner served as an Army Ranger “guarding the Berlin Wall during the Cold War,” as he puts it) talked extensively about the struggles of the Veterans Affairs administration and the challenges veterans face when they return home from their service.
“It’s important that we talk to veterans and let them know there’s no stigma to seeking and receiving help, it’s a good thing,” Messner said. “We went into West Point at the end of the Vietnam era and at that moment in our history, it wasn’t a popular thing to go into the military. It was a very unpopular thing.
“We can’t let that happen again,” Messner said.
“We transition 250,000 out of the military every year,” Campbell said. “And for some, that transition isn’t easy. That’s why there are 14,000 VSO’s, or Veterans Service Organizations, out there trying to do good things.”
Those numbers are impressive, but for the Messner campaign, the more significant stats are the more than 90,000 veterans in New Hampshire and the state’s 14,000 veteran-owned businesses. Messner ran ads promoting Thursday’s roundtable and he’s got another planned for November 4, both signs that his campaign is targeting veterans in the primary. And eventually, he hopes, in the general.
“Jeanne Shaheen isn’t doing a very good job serving our veterans,” Messner told NHJournal after the event. “She’s been the senator from New Hampshire for 11 years now, and we still don’t have a full-fledged VA hospital in our state. It’s an example of her not getting the job done.”
Shaheen’s office declined comment, but the two-term Democrat has previously acknowledged the troubling lack of a veteran’s hospital in the state.
“We absolutely should have one,” she told NHPR in 2017. “The first legislation I introduced when I got to the Senate in 2009 was for a full-service veterans hospital in New Hampshire. It is legislation that I have reintroduced at multiple Congresses… I will continue to advocate for that.”
But advocating is not delivering, Messner argues. The question is whether his argument will gain support in a three-way primary that includes retired Brig. General Don Bolduc, a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, as well as former NH Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien. Not to mention the primary wildcard, the possible entry of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
The Bolduc campaign is unlikely to leave this campaign battle space to Messner. Sources close to the campaign tell NHJournal they have an aggressive strategy recruiting veterans that they’ll be rolling out in coming days.
Messner’s major political asset is his personal wealth — he owns a successful law firm with multiple offices and more than 100 attorneys — and willingness to self-fund. He’s already advanced the campaign more than $1 million. That, and not his five years of Army service, is more likely to make an impact on the primary.
He can, however, use those resources to target a rich pool of voters in the veteran community–a reliably Republican and highly motivated voting bloc.
“Reforming the VA will be mission critical when I get to the U.S. Senate,” Messner says in his radio ad. “That’s not a campaign promise. It’s a commitment deeply rooted in the sacred oath I took at West Point.”