Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL veteran who lost his right eye in an IED blast, is looking for a new foray into public service after serving four deployments in the Middle East: politics.
Thirty-three-year-old Crenshaw is not your typical, inside-the-beltway candidate, but that isn’t stopping him from throwing his name in open race to fill the vacancy left by outgoing GOP Rep. Ted Poe of Texas. Unlike the challengers he faces, Crenshaw isn’t a titan of industry, a doctor, trial lawyer or investment banker, and he doesn’t come from a political background — a factor that could prove beneficial in both a state and an era that elected President Donald Trump, who famously ran for office as a Washington outsider promising to “drain the swamp.”
A sixth generation Texan, he, like Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, decided to serve in the military and fight overseas in the Iraq War. From an early age, he says he knew he wanted to be a Navy SEAL, a vision he attributes both to the strength of his late mother during her battle with breast cancer and a book from a former SEAL about patriotism, heroism and the call to serve.
Crenshaw completed four tours in the Middle East, including stints in Fallujah and the Helmand province of Afghanistan, where an IED blast cost him his right eye.
“I started in SEAL Team 3 in 2008. In 2012, I got hit by an IED in Afghanistan. One of our Afghan interpreters stepped on a pressure plate right in front of me. About 15 pounds of explosives dismembered him right in front of my face. It blinded me, shattered me and knocked me over,” Crenshaw told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“I woke up about 5 days later. They took some time to stabilize me in Afghanistan and do the surgery to remove my right eye. I woke up without a right eye and blind in the left. They had little faith I would see again, but the fact they said there was a chance … I really believed I would see again,” Crenshaw told TheDCNF.
He was completely blind for a couple of weeks, which caused him to have constant hallucinations, often times replaying scenes from Afghanistan. After somewhat regaining vision in his left eye, doctors discovered a hole in his retina and suggested surgery to fix it, but warned it could make him go blind forever.
“I said, ‘Sure, let’s try it. I’m sure it will be fine,’” Crenshaw told TheDCNF. “Luckily it was. I was completely blind for six more weeks. The surgery forced me to be face down that entire time, because there is a gas bubble they put in your eye. That gas bubble has to constantly be pressed up against your retina, so it was a fairly long, weird recovery process.”
After a full recovery, he went on to complete two more deployments in 2014 and 2016. Before taking off for Korea in 2016, he was told he had to go through the medical retirement process.
While retiring was somewhat bittersweet, Crenshaw says he knew he wanted to stay in public service, but wasn’t sure exactly what path he wanted to take.
“I retired in 2016 as a Lieutenant Commander and immediately went to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I knew I wanted to stay in service and it was unclear to me exactly what that would look like. I really wanted to get some policy experience, and I really wanted to get back to Texas,” Crenshaw told TheDCNF.
After graduation, Crenshaw returned to Texas and did a stint in Rep. Pete Sessions’ office. Sessions is now one of Crenshaw’s endorsers.
“My wife and I had talked about running for elected office someday, but we aren’t politically connected and we didn’t have any money. We had to build those things first. When GOP Rep. Ted Poe announced retirement in my district, well, I knew it was time,” Crenshaw told TheDCNF.
On Tuesday, Crenshaw and his team are embarking on a 100-mile run through the entire second congressional district of Texas to raise awareness for his campaign and Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Harvey dumped roughly 52 inches of rain on the greater Houston area in September 2017 and many neighborhoods are still in recovery mode.
“We start running about 15-20 miles a day through the district to show I’m willing to get on the ground and run every inch of this thing–lead from the front. But, really, we are going to use that attention to focus on Hurricane Harvey rebuilding efforts and really going through these neighborhoods that are still rebuilding,” Crenshaw told TheDCNF.
Crenshaw’s stances on immigration, abortion, health care, economic policy and gun rights are all in line with many conservatives in Congress.
On immigration, a topic that is more important to Texans than nearly any other, he is adamant that border security must come before any other conversation.
“It’s going to be a border wall. It’s going to be a fence where it makes sense. Focusing on those border crossing points that are easy transit points. It’s about putting more resources towards that, whether that is more manpower or border technology,” Crenshaw said.
Crenshaw is open to giving the roughly 800,000 young illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, known as DREAMers, “legal status,” but is against giving them an expedited pathway to citizenship.
“It’s not because we don’t feel like giving it to them,” Crenshaw said in reference to some of the proposals floating around Congress that would grant DREAMers a quicker path to citizenship. “It would allow them to cut in front of immigrants who are waiting in line.”
“We are not anti-immigration. We are against chain migration, except for the nuclear family. We want a merit-based system that is really based on economic needs.”
Like many conservatives in Texas, Crenshaw is pro-life, in favor of repealing and replacing Obamacare, protecting Second Amendment rights, continuing to fight ISIS abroad, and reforming Veterans’ Affairs, where he is committed to continue seeking health care.
Outside of the more mainstream policies, Crenshaw wants to focus on childhood nutrition and helping keep kids off the streets and out of gangs.
Poe’s announcement at the end of last year sparked an immediate windfall of new candidates. Crenshaw is not the only Republican looking to snag the seat, which polling experts expect will remain under GOP control in 2018. Poe won in 2016 by a 24 percent point margin.
Republican businesswoman Kathaleen Wall, who is a favorite to take the seat, is one of Crenshaw’s challengers. Wall has the endorsement of Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a number of state and local elected officials. She’s raised over $2.7 million in the cycle, compared to Crenshaw’s roughly $82,000.
Wall has donated to Republicans, including Poe, Cruz, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, former Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, for years, which could play in her favor.
Also on the Republican ballot are health care CEO David Balat, Texas state Rep. Kevin Roberts, physician Jon Spiers, investment banker Justin Lurie, attorneys Malcolm Whittaker and Jonny Havens and businessman Rick Walker.
This report, by Robert Donachie, was cross posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.