Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) walks out of the San Diego Federal Courthouse after an arraignment hearing on Thursday, August 23, 2018. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
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Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr. (R-Calif.), a five-term incumbent facing a 60-count federal indictment for a laundry list of campaign finance violations, has held onto his Southern California seat with 54 percent of the vote. His opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, a 29-year-old Palestinian/Mexican-American businessman, had received 46 percent of the vote at the time networks called the race.
For almost 40 years, a Hunter—first Duncan Sr., then Duncan Jr.—has won every election and reelection bid in California’s 50th District by as much as 30 points, easily besting Democratic opponents by tapping into one of the state’s most reliably conservative voting blocks. In 2016, President Trump bested Hillary Clinton by 15 points, and Hunter was reelected by a margin of 27 percentage points. But this year was different. After Hunter and his wife were charged with stealing more than $250,000 in campaign funds for their personal use in August, he started dropping in the polls.
Launched into the national spotlight, Campa-Najjar steadily gained support, even as Hunter’s campaign launched a series of attacks and ads suggesting that he was a “radical” Muslim trying to “infiltrate” Congress. (Campa-Najjar is Christian.) The move alienated some lifelong Republicans, like Nancy Clancey, an 87-year-old San Marcos resident who told me last week that she had voted for the Hunters since 1980. “I’ve been a Republican all my life,” she said. But after reading about Hunter’s indictment, and then being impressed by Campa-Najjar, she said, “I decided this is the time I’m going independent,” she says. “I’m not going to be forced to vote for people I don’t believe in.”
But “leaners” like Clancey weren’t enough for Campa-Najjar to clear the overwhelming Republican voter advantage in the 50th. Hunter is due back in federal court on December 3.