When Dan Moran returned from Iraq in 2006, politics was the furthest thing from his mind.
Moran, a Marine, barely survived a roadside IED blast that left half of his body covered in third-degree burns and disfigured his face. He also suffered a concussion and lost his spleen. He spent three and half weeks in a coma and two-and-a-half years in rehab.
Born and raised in Houston, Moran recovered at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. The healing process was grueling, he said, both physically and mentally.
“I asked myself, ‘Was it worth it?’” Moran said. “After being wounded, I asked myself if this was for something. It took me a long time to come to the conclusion that it absolutely is.”
Six years later, Moran has become part of the political sphere in Texas, working on both Gov. Rick Perry’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns and, more recently, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s U.S. Senate campaign.
But his work for Dewhurst thrust him even deeper into Texas politics this week.
On Monday night, Katrina Pierson, a North Texas Tea Party activist and supporter of Ted Cruz, Dewhurst's U.S. Senate rival, defended a message she sent out on Twitter during this weekend's state GOP convention calling Moran's appearance in a Dewhurst video exploitative.
“David Dewhurst exploits deformed disabled vet in intro video. So sad. Liberals placate to heart strings so it meets expectations. #rptcon,” Pierson, who appeared in the background of one of Cruz's early televised advertisements and volunteers for his campaign, tweeted on Saturday.
Moran fired back Monday, tweeting, "My face might be 'deformed' but not my character & honor!," among other messages condemning Pierson's remarks. Several tweets were posted in the debate.
Pierson has deleted her initial Tweet, citing “poor word choice,” and apologized to Moran, but she said she stands by the message, which she says she made independently.
“When the video was playing at the convention, I personally was offended because I come from a family of veterans, and anytime I see disabled veterans being used for political gain, it infuriates me,” Pierson said in an interview with the Tribune. “My initial thought was I can’t believe this person is being exploited.”
She also issued a statement on her blog apologizing to Moran if he found her words offensive.
But the social media spectacle gained so much traction that Cruz's campaign team weighed in.
"This was a poor choice of words and Katrina Pierson, who is an unpaid Tea Party leader and single mom, has appropriately apologized," Cruz communications director James Bernsen wrote in an email. "As an Iraq War Veteran, I can tell you unequivocally that Ted Cruz respects Dan Moran's service and that of every veteran."
Even Perry has gotten involved in the debate, voicing his support for Moran on Tuesday.
Moran brushed off the debate.
“I don’t make a living doing campaigns; I’m not a politician,” Moran told the Tribune, adding, “With all due respect, I run my family business, I’m well-educated, I have my MBA, I’ve run business seminars at Harvard, I’ve served in war, I’ve done a lot of different things. It just makes me laugh when people make comments like that because they just don’t know. It’s sad.”
His business, Moran Enterprises, founded in 2007, provides private equity consulting. But Moran has also been involved in state affairs since December 2010, when Perry appointed him to serve on the 2011 Texas Inaugural Committee. In March 2011, he was also appointed to serve on the Texas Veterans Commission.
His relationship with Perry dates to 2006, when Perry called Moran’s wife to offer his support while Moran was still in a coma. The act touched Moran.
"He doesn’t advertise it much, but he’s a big supporter of the military, and sees everyone in uniform as a brother and sister,” Moran said of Perry, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1972-77.
Moran began knocking on doors, putting up signs and making phone calls for Perry's 2010 gubernatorial campaign, but his role escalated during Perry's presidential run, when the governor asked him become more involved. Moran spoke on the campaign trail for Perry in Iowa and South Carolina and even appeared in a televised ad.
Now, Moran is doing the same for Dewhurst, with whom he developed a relationship through their involvement in various nonprofits dedicated to supporting veterans.
Moran insists that his endorsement is nothing special.
“I don’t for a second want to get all high and mighty and think that my endorsement is any more valuable than anyone else’s,” Moran said. “I got involved and went to these candidates and said, ‘How can I help you?’ The reason I do it is because we need people with a proven conservative record.”
For Moran, that means understanding national security and what it’s like to wear a military uniform. Moran said Dewhurst's service in the Air Force and the CIA qualifies him for the job.
“It’s important to me that we have someone who understands and believes in the importance of the 10th Amendment, and that freedom isn’t free,” Moran said.