GRAND FORKS, N.D. – While Maj. Mike McNamara was in Iraq, his family handled much of his city council campaign for him: They handed out fliers, held a campaign rally and put up signs around town.
Meanwhile, he answered voters' questions from Fallujah by e-mail.
The strategy paid off this week when the Marine reservist won a seat on the Grand Forks City Council. McNamara, 48, beat four other candidates with 49 percent of the vote in the city's second ward, despite serving thousands of miles away.
McNamara said he will take part in council meetings via speakerphone until he returns to North Dakota in about 90 days. He said he could not have won the race without his family, and he would encourage others serving in Iraq to run for office.
"When I grew up, everyone was a veteran and they really, truly understood what service to the nation was," he said by phone from Iraq, where he works in a combat operations center. "The country is straying from that. When you come here and see young men get killed, and the terrible ways they get killed, it consecrates democracy for you."
McNamara, son of former Boston Red Sox manager John McNamara, said he is not affiliated with a political party. He has served a total of 15 months in two tours of duty in Iraq.
He isn't the first veteran of that war to run for office: Ohio Marine Paul Hackett ran a closely contested race for the U.S. House last year; Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs in combat in Iraq, won Illinois' Democratic primary in March to run for retiring U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (news, bio, voting record)'s seat; in Pennsylvania, war veteran Patrick Murphy won the Democratic primary last month to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick.
Mark Jendrysik, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota, said they might be part of a trend.
"Service is honorable and part of citizenship," he said. "People respect you. It doesn't surprise me at all."
Grand Forks residents at a local restaurant said McNamara, who is a well-known talk-show host in town, has a good background for politics.
"He has a lot of experience in organizational matters, which he'll need on the City Council," said Lowell Wendel, a retiree who doesn't live in McNamara's ward but said he would have voted for him "in a heartbeat."
Wendel said McNamara will have to be careful not to be too opinionated on the radio, however, where his conversations and debates with listeners often get heated.
Jarrod Thomas, who is filling in for McNamara on his "Mac Talk" show, on Leighton Broadcasting's KNOX radio in Grand Forks, said his friend "eats, drinks and sleeps leadership."
"Who better than who has been there?" Thomas said. "City Council today, mayor tomorrow, maybe governor in the future."
McNamara's wife, Susan, said the City Council campaign brought the family closer. His daughter, 12-year-old Katherine, said she enjoyed going door-to-door with her mother and two brothers for the campaign effort.
"It was pretty fun because you get to talk about someone you really love," Katherine said.