Tommy Sowers isn’t one to back down from a challenge. He finished first in his class of Green Berets and completed one tour in Kosovo and two tours in Iraq. The Army major even convinced West Point officials to fly a class of cadets to India to meet the Dalai Lama during his time as an instructor.
The fight he’s found in Southeastern Missouri, though, might be his toughest yet. Sowers is running on the Democratic ticket to unseat an entrenched Republican Congresswoman who has held the seat since 1996.
Sowers, 34, got out of the Army in 2009 and returned to his hometown of Rolla, Mo., in Missouri’s 8th Congressional District moving into a home two doors down from his parents. He returned to challenge Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a seven-term Congresswoman who has won her elections often with more than 70 percent of the vote.
He’s an underdog to say the least, but he’s receiving national acclaim. DNC Chairman Howard Dean pointed to his campaign on CNN as one that could reclaim a Congressional seat for the Democrats. Singer Sheryl Crow, a Missouri native, recorded phone messages being sent out to voters in support of the Sowers. And he’s already won the endorsement of the St. Louis Dispatch’s editorial board.
From the beginning, Sowers has done it his way. While most politicians have avoided the topic of Iraq and Afghanistan in their campaigns, he’s made it a focus saying the U.S. needs to pull conventional forces out of Afghanistan and decrease spending in both theatres. He called out Congress for not upholding their responsibility for making military and just signing off on military leadership’s decisions without doing their due diligence.
Sowers specifically cited the debate over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as a subject in which Congress must take the lead. He said in an interview with Army Times it’s an “insult to the professionalism” of America’s service members that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell hasn’t been repealed.
“It’s a failure of Congress. They are now waiting for other branches to decide on this. I taught the Constitution at West Point. I am going to have to teach the Constitution to them,” he said.
Sowers is worried about the soldiers returning from deployments. He said it’s unacceptable that returning soldiers are twice as likely to be unemployed. He also promised to stay on Veteran’s Affairs health care plan and encouraged all Congressmen to do the same.
“If it’s good enough for our troops than why shouldn’t Congress be on it too,” Sowers said.
Adding a military voice to Congress is why the 11-year veteran chose to run. Sowers didn’t want to run a conventional campaign either. He didn’t tap into party strategists to orchestrate his campaign. Sowers called on his college roommate to be his campaign manager.
Raising money for his campaign has been a struggle, though, Sowers’ campaign has raised over $1.4 million. Rather than collect from big donors, Sowers has depended on grass roots fund raising through his website. His opponent, though, has latched onto the lack of funding he’s receiving from Missouri.
Fund raising has been his least favorite part of the job, but Sowers said he’s enjoyed traveling across the 8th district and meeting the voters. Leading a Green Beret A-team through Iraq is one thing, castrating calfs with a dairy farmer is another. Sowers said hitting the road and meeting voters one-on-one is the only chance he has in this race.
The election just four days away; Sowers said he didn’t expect to lead the polls, but he remains optimistic he can pull off the upset.
“Right now independent voters we’ve been focusing on have been breaking to us in a four-to-one margin,” Sowers said. “When you’re challenging an incumbent, it’s never gonna be close until the end.”