State Rep. Mark Takai leverages his military experience in the first TV ad to come from the crowded field of Democratic candidates vying for the open 1st Congressional District seat.

The 30-second spot, which started airing Wednesday, highlights his endorsements from Vote Vets, a political action committee, and U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a disabled Iraq war veteran who graduated from the University of Hawaii.

Duckworth describes Takai as a critical partner, adding that only veterans can truly understand the issues veterans face.

Mark Takai PF

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Much as U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard leaned on her military experience to launch her from Honolulu to Washington, D.C., Takai is hoping his Hawaii Army National Guard service will separate him from the pack and help him win on Aug. 9.

Takai trailed Hawaii Senate President Donna Mercado Kim by five points in Civil Beat’s February poll. Lagging behind them were state Sen. Will Espero and Honolulu City Council members Stanley Chang and Ikaika Anderson.

Amid a backdrop of somber patriotic music and splices of military imagery, the ad blames federal cuts in defense spending on a lack of veterans elected to Congress.

The ad cites a USA Today story from November 2012 that says there haven’t been this few vets serving in Congress since the 1940s.

Given the military’s strong presence in Hawaii — thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in contracts make it the second largest economic engine after tourism — Takai is painting himself as the candidate who will cater best to the needs of that population.

The ad also references a March 19 story about Hawaii lawmakers lamenting the defense cuts. But this time the publication isn’t identified; it was the online news outlet Hawaii Reporter instead of a national newspaper.

On Takai’s campaign website, he says he thinks it’s wrong that some in Congress have proposed cutting critical services like assistance to homeless vets, suicide prevention programs and job training assistance.

The ad rolls on with flickers of flags and Navy ships, clips of Duckworth and awards ceremonies, and an image of Takai in combat uniform flashing a shaka. He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2009 as the base operations officer at Camp Patriot in Kuwait.

The ad also showcases a column Takai wrote for the Star-Advertiser that touts his leading role in the Legislature in passing a bill in 2005 that created the Hawaii Medal of Honor to recognize fallen war heroes.

Now a lieutenant colonel, Takai’s next mission is to win the Aug. 9 primary.

He has continued to raise significant sums of money to put toward more ads that might help convince voters to choose him. The latest campaign finance reports show Takai took in $227,202 over the last three months.

Kim raised $251,641 during the same period, which covers through March 31.

If Takai manages to win the Democratic nomination, he will likely face Republican Charles Djou in the Nov. 4 general election.

Djou, who also has a military background and served in Afghanistan, lost to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in 2012. Hanabusa is vacating the seat to run against U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz for Senate.

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