Why We’re Not Changing the Rating for Duncan Hunter’s Seat, Yet

It’s already a competitive seat, for one

Rep. Duncan Hunter R-Calif., lines up his shot during the First Tee’s Congressional Challenge annual golf tournament at the Columbia Country Club golf course Monday June 25, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Whenever a member of Congress is indicted, it’s a good idea to take a long, hard look at their re-election chances. It’s also reasonable to believe their prospects for another term would be diminished and political handicappers would immediately downgrade their race. But it’s not so simple with GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter and California’s 50th District.

When New York Republican Chris Collins was indicted a couple weeks ago, we shifted New York’s 27th District from Solid Republican to Likely Republican. It was an acknowledgment that an indictment at least warrants a district be on the list of competitive races.

But we’ve had California 50 rated as Likely Republican for most of the cycle, based on Hunter’s known legal problems. And it’s going to take a couple of weeks, and subsequent polling, to determine whether enough voters in southern California will change their support for the congressman because of an official indictment or if some Republicans will stay home, as noted by veteran Los Angeles Times reporter Mark Z. Barabak on Twitter.

Some Democratic strategists are still initially skeptical of their chances. President Donald Trump’s 55 percent performance in the district in 2016 might not look impressive, but compared to the 32 percent he received statewide, the 50th is a much taller hill for Democrats to climb.

Previously, some of the wind went out of the Democratic sails when Ammar Campa-Najjar, a 28-year-old Latino-Arab American who formerly worked for President Barack Obama, finished ahead of establishment favorite Josh Butner. Campa-Najjar received the state party’s endorsement before the primary and raised $1 million through June 30, but hadn’t proven to some strategists that he has the gravitas to knock off the congressman before the indictment.

Collins is also an example of why it’s OK to let the dust settle in these situations. The congressman was emphatic about running for re-election, right up until the moment he said he wasn’t. Thus far, Hunter says he is running for another term. One key difference is there appears to be no way to remove Hunter from the November ballot in California, compared to New York, where it’s just extremely difficult.

At a minimum, Democrats will zoom out from the 50th District and try to tarnish Hunter’s GOP colleagues around the country who have any association with him. It could be a few weeks before we know whether the tactic will work.

So for now, we’re maintaining our Likely Republican rating, waiting for the situation to further develop and, most importantly, waiting for survey data to see how voters in the 50th District respond to the latest news.

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