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Defense industry finds few old friends on Hill

Ike Skelton and John Murtha are shown here. | AP Photo

Ike Skelton (left) and the late John Murtha are no longer in Congress to defend military programs. | AP Photo

The defense industry is in the fight of its life, but many of its longtime champions on Capitol Hill are retired, dead or in jail.

Of the 30 largest House recipients of defense industry campaign donations since the 1990 election cycle, only 11 are still serving in Congress, according to a POLITICO analysis of federal data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. It's the same story in the Senate, where 14 of the top 30 recipients over the same time period still serve there.

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And many observers admit that the remaining industry defenders aren’t the defense giants who once walked the halls of Congress.

(PHOTOS: What they're saying about sequestration)

Talk about bad timing — monster spending cuts are set to hit the Pentagon and domestic agencies Friday and, in turn, take a major whack at the defense contractors’ bottom lines.

That's left Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and other major firms scrambling to cultivate a new crop of defenders.

“Are we missing people who understood our industry and understood our contribution to our national defense? Yeah, absolutely,” said Dan Stohr, a spokesman for the Aerospace Industries Association, the defense contracting industry's leading trade group. “Losing those kinds of people does hurt.”

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The defense industry’s biggest recipient over the last two decades, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), died in 2010, while Pentagon favorites like Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) have all retired.

Former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) is near the end of an eight-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal bribery, fraud and tax evasion charges. Cunningham was an industry favorite — receiving a total of $878,000 in campaign contributions since the 1990 election cycle.

Meanwhile, many of the bets the industry made in the 2012 cycle didn’t pan out. Scott Brown, the defense contracting industry’s leading Senate recipient last year, lost his re-election race. Two other big recipients also lost: George Allen (R-Va.), pulling in $133,000 in donations and Todd Akin (R-Mo.), pulling in $125,000. Two of the top 10 House recipients from the last cycle — Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) and Mark Critz (D-Pa.) — are also no longer around to stick up for defense.

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Veteran defense industry allies have also been drying up in the Senate. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) lost his seat amid a campaign finance scandal, and has since passed away. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) passed away while in office. Former Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) retired. And Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) was tapped to serve as secretary of State.

"Turnover is the nature of the business," House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith told POLITICO. The Washington state Democrat received $201,000 in the 2012 cycle from the defense industry, putting him in the top five among House lawmakers. 

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