Naval Academy alumni run for office with mixed results in 2020 election

Three Naval Academy alumni spent Tuesday night with bated breath.

While the country kept its eyes on TV screens and Twitter pages, the three women watched their own elections to see if they would join Congress, either as first time senators or incumbent representatives.


Races took time to call, with the question of absentee or mail-in ballots pushing the timelines for some of the races. By Wednesday morning, all three knew the results of the race. Two women would keep their seats, the third, Amy McGrath, did not succeed in besting incumbent Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

McGrath, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) were among at least five Naval Academy alumni to run for a Congressional seat on Tuesday. Two others ran for state house positions, with another losing his primary race.


The three women also represent a group of female veterans running for office nationwide. There were four candidates who received nominations for the Senate, with 24 receiving them for the House of Representatives, said Kate Kranz Jordan, managing director of Veterans Campaign, which helps prepare veterans to run for civic leadership roles.

The last cycle saw 12 female veterans run for the House of Representatives, Jordan said.

There is a trend of female veterans running and winning federal seats, she said. Veterans Campaign executive director Seth Lynn said 10 years ago that the country should be watching for women veterans, and it appears he was right.

In 2018, there were seven female veterans who served at the same time, she said. Before that, the most to serve at the same time was four.

This year, Veterans Campaign did not predict the number of female veterans in Congress will change, but there will be a change-up of people, with some people not seeking re-election and others gaining new seats, Jordan said.

The Associated Press called the race in favor of Luria and Sherrill, as well as ‘86 academy grad Rep. Scott Franklin (R-Florida). As of noon Monday, the race has not yet been called in Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.)’s race, although he was leading.

Having the Naval Academy on a politician’s resume can be helpful, Jordan said. In general, military service is often a highlight of a politician’s narrative, if they served.

Although there are fewer politicians with military service than in the 1950s or 1960s, service still remains a path to a civic leadership position, said Kris Miler, associate professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Government and Politics.


“I think it’s seen as an advantage,” Miler said.

For women, military service can give a candidate a toughness. Women might be seen as someone who is weak or cannot work in a male-driven environment, Miler said.

It also gives them, and men, a legitimacy, Jordan said. People are less likely to question a woman with combat experience.

“No one is going to look at, let’s say Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and say she’s not tough enough,” Jordan said.

In general, military service, including attending the Naval Academy, is going to be the forefront of a candidate’s narrative, Jordan said.

But doing that was a source of controversy for Madison Cawthorn, a Republican who won a House seat for North Carolina. Cawthorn, 25, is now the youngest member of the U.S. House of Representatives.


Cawthorn included his nomination to the Naval Academy as part of his narrative, sometimes spinning it as though a car crash is what ended his hopes of attending the service academy. However, the Asheville Citizen-Times revealed that he had been rejected before the collision.

Miler said academy and military service portrays a sense of patriotism and a sense of service, for both parties, she said. Republicans generally have taken the lead, so service might help propel a Republican candidate, like Franklin, to win, she said. For a Democratic candidate, it can help make them look stronger on issues Democrats are typically weaker.

Which alumni ran?

Of the eight running for election, perhaps the most watched race was that of McGrath, the Democrat challenger to McConnell.

McGrath, who retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, graduated from the academy in 1997, according to Courtney Jolley, senior director of communications for the Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation. She served 20 years.

McGrath also taught at the Naval Academy, living in the Annapolis area during her tour.


Luria also graduated in 1997, Jolley said. She served 20 years in the Navy before retiring with the rank of commander, according to her website. She was one of the first women in the Navy’s nuclear power program. She won re-election this year.

Sherrill graduated in 1994, Jolley said. She served approximately 10 years in the Navy, according to her website. After leaving the Navy, she became a lawyer. She won re-election this year.

Franklin graduated from the Naval Academy in 1986, according to his LinkedIn. This is his first time elected to represent Florida in the House of Representatives. He served as a naval aviator for 14 years before joining the Naval Reserve for another 12 years, according to LinkedIn.

Garcia graduated from the Naval Academy in 1998, according to his website. He served 20 years in the Navy as a pilot. Garcia ran for his seat on a temporary basis in a May special election, according to the New York Times. The November election decides if Garcia or his opponent Christy Smith will serve the 25th district in California. This race had not been called as of 6 p.m. Thursday.

Andrew Beeler graduated from the Naval Academy in 2014 and served five years. He joined the Naval Reserve after five years as a surface warfare officer, according to his website. The Republican won his first term in the Michigan State Senate, according to ABC 12 News.

Fiona McFarland graduated from the Naval Academy in 2008 and served eight years. She is the daughter of K.T. McFarland, a former deputy national security advisor for President Donald Trump, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. McFarland won her first term in the Florida House.


Dr. Samuel Zager graduated from the Naval Academy in 1997 and served seven years, according to his website. He won his first term in the Maine House.

Corey Strong graduated from the Naval Academy in 2003. He served for eight years. He ran for a US House seat to represent Tennessee but lost to Democrat Steve Cohen in the primary, according to WMC Action News 5.

Will Sheehan graduated from the academy in 2006. He ran for a U.S. House seat to represent New Jersey but lost in the primary, according to the New York Times.

For the record

This story has been updated to correct the number of female veterans running for election in 2020 and the number who were elected in 2018. The story was also updated to include information on two USNA alumni who ran for office and provide an update on Mike Garcia's race.