Ex-treasurer nominee Barney leans on military background in House campaign

Delaware Vote logoDOVER — Sean Barney says he has always been an underdog. He was born premature with a heart condition, repeated ninth grade and nearly died while serving in Iraq.

Now, despite suffering the first loss by a Democrat running statewide against a non-incumbent in 20 years, he’s back in the political game and seeking an even higher office.

A former Marine and adviser to Delaware Sen. Tom Carper and Gov. Jack Markell, Mr. Barney is leaning on his military background as he makes his case to be Delaware’s newest member of Congress.

Sean Barney

Sean Barney

“I’ve had the experience in my life on numerous occasions of getting knocked down and getting back up and I believe that we’re defined not by whether we get knocked down — all of us get knocked down in life — but whether we get back up and whether we get back up stronger,” he said.

He earned the Democratic nomination for treasurer in 2014 after incumbent Chip Flowers dropped out, thus erasing the need for a primary, but he lost to Republican Ken Simpler by 10 percent.

Mr. Barney, who is taking on five other Democrats to be the party’s nominee for the general election, said he has learned from that loss and is confident he will win “going away.”

Much of his campaign centers on his background as a Marine, and it has earned him the backing of VoteVets Political Action Committee, which is focused on getting veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq elected to office.

“To me, it’s pretty simple: In the Marine Corps, as I’ve said many times this campaign, nobody ever asked us if we were Republicans or Democrats, we didn’t ask each other,” Mr. Barney said.

“We worked together and we did our job for the good of the country and did it proudly together, and yes, when it comes to Congress you get elected running from and with a party, but you ultimately step up and you take an oath of office, just as those who enlist in the Marine Corps take an oath of enlistment, and so at the end of the day, it should be about that obligation that you take on when you take that oath of office to do what’s right for the country and to serve, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we have the dysfunction in Washington that we have at a time when we’ve got fewer veterans in Congress than at any point in our history.”

Inspired to make a difference after 9/11, Mr. Barney joined the Marines in 2002, thinking he would be deployed to Afghanistan. Instead, he was sent to Iraq.

“It was very apparent, and has become ever more apparent since, the Bush administration was good at beating its chest, was good at threatening and ultimately deploying force, but they had no real sense of what they were getting into, getting the country into, and there was no real plan for the day after,” he said.

On May 12, 2006, his life changed forever. On patrol in Fallujah, Iraq, he was shot by a sniper in the neck and critically injured.

“I was lucky,” he said. “The bullet went in just under my Adam’s Apple, missed my windpipe, missed my spine, thankfully, but it severed my carotid artery, which should have been the end right there, except the heat of the round cauterized the artery to the jugular vein, so instead of bleeding out immediately, the blood was looping, which was dangerous but it gave a little window of opportunity to the Marines I was with, the Navy Corpsman I was with, and that’s the other reason I’m here, is just their actions, and what they did that day. They got me from a street corner in the center of the city to Fallujah surgical on a base on the outskirts of the city in 12 minutes.”

He spent a year in recovery, with substantial time in the hospital.

In 2012, he became the manager of Gov. Markell’s campaign for a second term and after the election joined his staff as policy director for a year.

There, Mr. Barney’s website boasts, he “helped raise the minimum wage, end mandatory consecutive sentencing, create universal background checks for gun sales, pass marriage equality and establish civil rights protections for transgender Delawareans.”

On the issue of gun control, he has been criticized by a leading member of the Delaware General Assembly, who alleged Mr. Barney is taking credit for something he did not do.

In a May Facebook post, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, questioned why Mr. Barney “keeps bragging about helping with background checks in the legislature” and said she “never knew” him during his time with Gov. Markell.

A spokesman for Mr. Barney’s campaign defended his role. A spokesman for Gov. Markell said in an email the legislation “was a joint effort by the governor, legislators, then-Attorney General (Beau) Biden and then-Lieutenant Governor (Matt) Denn.”

On guns and other matters, Mr. Barney has sought to paint himself as the most progressive candidate since entering the race in December.

He’s highlighted plans to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15, limit the influence of money in elections and fund an expansion of Social Security by lifting the payroll tax cap, among other areas.

Mr. Barney’s military service has helped him pull in contributions: he has raised $442,000 from donors, second among House candidates.

According to OpenSecrets.org, a watchdog group that analyzes on campaign spending, about 74 percent of Mr. Barney’s money had come from out of state as of the end of March, about twice the percentage received by the candidate who ranks second in that field.

“We’ve got a grassroots fundraising organization. Eighty percent of our contributions are $250 or less, and we are getting support around the country because both in Delaware and across the country, there are people who believe strongly that at a time when we’ve got fewer veterans in Congress than at any point in history it’s important to elect veterans, and we’ve got people who believe strongly they want a Congress that actually works,” Mr. Barney said.

Earlier this month, he drew some national attention when he criticized Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for comments he said “denigrated Gold Star parents and insulted veterans and service members.” In May, he earned plaudits for revealing he struggled with PTSD in the aftermath of his nearly fatal injury.

VoteVets, the group supporting him, has spent big money on races in the past, which bodes well for Mr. Barney.

“Service is in Sean’s blood,” VoteVets PAC Chairman Jon Soltz said in a statement. “From high school, Sean’s committed his life to the service of others, and that includes his service in Iraq. That’s a special kind of person, and it is very, very rare in politics. In a lot of ways, you could say his commitment to service is Biden-eque.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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