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Iraq War veteran making a run for Congress in Metro East

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 12, 2011 - A Carbondale native who appeared in a memorable series of pro-veteran ads during the 2010 election cycle is trying his hand at electoral politics.

Chris Miller, a 31-year-old Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq, is running as a Democrat in Illinois' 12th Congressional District. The race for that seat is garnering lots of attention because U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, is retiring.

Miller appeared in a series of ads in 2010 that contended that the safety of U.S. soldiers was threatened by the lack of a national energy policy. The national campaign organized by Operation Free criticized then-U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield, and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, for not supporting an energy bill being debated at the time.

Miller received a Purple Heart in 2004 for his Iraq War service after his military vehicle was hit by a suicide bomber. According to his website, the blast showered Miller with glass and shrapnel and ruptured his eardrums.

Miller said the event also provided him with some perspective.

"I thought I was dead," Miller said. "I thought that was the end of me, the end of the story. I made it out. Afterward sitting in the aid station, I'd already been in the Army for about five years. ... I thought to myself, 'You've been given another chance here.' Every day after this is sort of a gift, another opportunity to go forward and do well and do good things in this world."

He added that America's energy priorities will be a major aspect of his campaign.

"It's an issue that everyone seems to agree with -- whether it's left or right or Republican or Democrat -- but we just lost the momentum on it in Washington," Miller said. "It's something that I want to pick up again and move forward so we can once again have American energy independence, using the resources that we have in the 12th Congressional District and elsewhere here in America."

While four Republicans have indicated they will seek the seat, many potential Democratic candidates have decided against a run. Former St. Clair County Regional Superintendent of Schools Brad Harriman and Granite City resident Ken Wiezer announced candidacies for the Democratic nomination. 

Not only does Miller think he's the best candidate to carry the Democratic banner, but he doesn't buy the idea that Republicans have an opportunity to take the district.

"This district, from my memory, has been in Democratic hands since 1952," Miller said. "And just saying that it's a swing district, it don't make it so. You can say it, don't mean it's true. You can hope it, but it ain't going to be so. The county that I live in, Jackson County, is a strong Democratic county and I know that Madison and St. Clair Counties are also strong Democratic counties as well."

So far, the four Republicans seeking the seat are 2010 GOP lieutenant governor candidate Jason Plummer, former Belleville Mayor Rodger Cook, 2010 GOP nominee Teri Newman and O'Fallon resident Theresa Kormos.

Jason Rosenbaum, a freelance journalist in St. Louis, covers local government and politics.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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