Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, who stands accused of using campaign funds for personal expenses, survived a re-election challenge on Tuesday from Ammar Campa-Najjar, a progressive Democrat of Mexican-Palestinian descent.
Campa-Najjar, an Obama administration alumnus, seemed like a long-shot candidate after he won his party’s primary in June. The 50th Congressional District, whose residents include a large number of retired military veterans, is one of the few in California that President Donald Trump carried in 2016. And Hunter, first elected in 2008, was carrying on a family tradition ― he succeeded his father, also named Duncan Hunter, who had represented the area in the House for nearly 30 years.
But in August, Hunter and his wife were indicted for allegedly funneling more than $250,000 in campaign money toward personal expenses, including vacations, bar tabs and private school tuition. An indictment detail that gained particular attention charged that Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, told his wife to buy shorts for him from a golf pro shop so he could later claim the purchase was for golf balls for a wounded warrior event.
Hunter, 41, denied any wrongdoing and in a TV interview seemed to place the blame on his wife, saying she managed the campaign’s finances. They have both pleaded not guilty and claimed the charges against them are politically motivated.
The corruption allegations put the seat in play and the 29-year-old Campa-Najjar aggressively sought support from Republicans disillusioned with the indicted incumbent. While running on his progressive platform, he tried to present his policies in ways that wouldn’t alienate voters on the right.
The polls showing a tightening race, Hunter’s campaign responded with a series of racist, misleading attack ads depicting Campa-Najjar as a “radical Muslim” trying to “infiltrate the U.S. government.”
As part of the fear-mongering, the ads mentioned the Democrat’s biological grandfather, a member of a Palestinian terrorist group who died 16 years before Campa-Najjar was born.
A church-going Christian who quoted from the Bible during campaign events, Campa-Najjar also took to reminding voters that in order to work in the White House under Obama, he received a security clearance from the FBI.
In a survey conducted less than two weeks before the election, 53 percent of the district’s voters said they believed Hunter broke the law — but he still enjoyed a slight lead over Campa-Najjar, indicative of the area’s GOP tilt.