Politics

Hunter Indictment Shakes Up Race in GOP District

Hunter was indicted Tuesday for misuse of campaign funds

Ammar Campa-Najjar is challenging GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)

GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter’s indictment is likely to shake up the race for his southern California seat, even though his district is traditionally Republican.

Hunter was indicted Tuesday for misusing campaign funds, which has some Democrats optimistic the seat his seat is in play.

“I think the Republicans just lost another House seat,” said California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman in a brief phone interview. “Surely the voters of San Diego are not going to elect a crook who’s been indicted.”

Hunter’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but it appears that his name will be on the ballot in November despite the indictment.

Sam Mahood, a spokesman for California’s Secretary of State, told Roll Call, “At this point there does not exist a process in elections code for him to have his name removed from the ballot.”

The only way for a candidate’s name to be removed is if he or she dies before the list of candidates is certified, which will occur in just over a week according to Mahood. California also prohibits write-in candidates in the general election.

California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte said in a statement to Roll Call, “In our country, individuals are presumed innocent until a jury of their peers convict them ... The congressman and his wife have a constitutional promise to their day in court and we will not prejudge the outcome.”

In play?

Democrats were already targeting Hunter this election cycle due to his legal troubles, but viewed the seven GOP-held seats in California that Hillary Clinton won as better pickup opportunities. Bauman expected the 50th to move from a second tier to a first tier of Democratic targets in California.

Campa-Najjar has already raised nearly $1.1 million in his campaign, while Hunter has raised a total of $856,000. Hunter had a slight cash on hand advantage at the end of the second fundraising quarter.

“I think his chances of winning this race went up exponentially today,” Bauman said of the Democratic candidate.

Campa-Najjar made an apparent appeal to GOP voters in the district in a statement Tuesday night.

“The division, chaos and corruption in Washington has gone too far ... Now is the time to put country over party and rise against this corruption and rise above the divisive politics,” he said. “Together, we can bring real change and fresh thinking to represent the people of CA-50.”

Campa-Najjar is of Latino and Arab descent and worked for President Barack Obama’s administration as a Labor Department public affairs officer. At 29, he would be among the youngest members of Congress if elected.

Bauman said Democrats will likely conduct additional polls in the district, though they had previously asked voters in polling whether they would be more or less inclined to support Hunter if he was indicted. Bauman declined to discuss specific numbers but said the poll “showed Hunter’s position deteriorating significantly.”

A GOP district

But defeating Hunter could still be a challenge for Democrats. The 50th District is among the most Republican districts in the state, and Hunter's name I.D. goes back more than three decades to when his father held the seat.

The 50th District is a traditionally Republican area of northern San Diego county. Before the news broke Tuesday, the race was rated Likely Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

Hunter’s father held the seat for nearly 30 years before retiring, and Hunter, a Marine veteran, succeeded his father in Congress in 2009.

President Donald Trump carried the 50th District by 15 points in 2016. Hunter was among the first members of Congress to endorse Trump in the GOP primary. The first member to do so, New York GOP Rep. Chris Collins, was indicted earlier this month on charges related to insider trading. 

After the Collins news broke, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said the New York seat was "firmly in play." 

But she did not make the same assertion in a statement on Hunter's indictment Tuesday night.

“Hunter’s misuse of $250,000 worth of campaign funds for personal expenses and the filing of false campaign finance records is emblematic of the corruption and twisted priorities of today's Republican Party," Kelly said.

“While everyday families are struggling to afford healthcare, prescription drugs and property taxes, their Republican representatives in Congress are focused solely on enriching themselves and their donors,” she added.

The DCCC did have Hunter's seat on its initial target list because of his ethics issues.

News had already broken that Hunter was under federal investigation for using campaign money for personal use when voters went to the polls for the June 5 primary. Hunter finished first in the top-two primary with 47 percent of the vote, while Campa-Najjar came in second with 18 percent of the vote.

Overall , 62 percent of primary voters supported the Republicans in the June 5 primary, compared to 36 percent of primary voters who backed a Democratic candidate.

Watch: Trump Says Wall is Coming, Predicts a ‘Red Wave’ in November

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.