Federally indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter failed to earn the endorsement of his local Republican Party on Monday despite representing San Diego County in the House for more than 10 years.
It was the first time the six-term GOP congressman from California’s 50th District has failed to capture the endorsement.
Hunter faces trial in January for allegedly misusing more than $250,000 from his campaign account and subsequently lying to the FBI. He also faces a crowded primary field that includes former GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of the adjacent 49th District, popular conservative talk radio host Carl DeMaio, and state Sen. Brian Jones.
Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who lost to Hunter by 3.4 percentage points in the 2018 midterms despite the district breaking for President Donald Trump by 15 points two years earlier, is also running in the “top-two” primary, in which the top-two vote-getters, regardless of party, face off head-to-head in the general election.
None of the four GOP candidates in attendance at a forum in San Diego on Monday met the threshold of two-thirds support from the San Diego Republican Party to win its official backing, multiple outlets reported.
The local party did not publicly release the results of its vote, but a photo obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune showed that DeMaio earned 21 of the 49 delegates’ votes, while Jones and Hunter earned 14 each. Issa did not receive any.
The delegate vote appeared to bolster DeMaio’s narrative that he is the front-runner in the race despite two other candidates having longtime congressional experience in the area.
“The perception that you’ve got a current member and a former member squaring off — that’s not the race,” DeMaio told CQ Roll Call, referring to Hunter and Issa.
There is an “insurgency” on the ground in the 50th District “that people in Washington may not be very aware of,” he said, adding that that groundswell has lent him a “strong base of support” against the GOP establishment candidates.
DeMaio led all Republicans in a San Diego Union-Tribune/10News survey earlier this month with 20 percent support, compared with 16 percent for Issa and 11 percent for Hunter. DeMaio’s lead was within the poll’s 4.7- to 4.9-point margin of error, however.
The forum offered an early glimpse into how Hunter, Issa, DeMaio, and Jones would tailor their messaging and how aggressive they would campaign against each other.
Despite the pleas of San Diego County Party Chairman Tony Krvaric that he would “not tolerate any beating up of a fellow Republican in this room,” the candidates went after each other early and often.
“I’ve got this seat. … I’m not going to move somewhere and fight for the easy seat,” Hunter said, a thinly veiled dig at Issa and DeMaio, who do not live in the district and have previously represented or run in other Southern California districts.
Issa labeled DeMaio as a “Never Trump” Republican, though DeMaio indicated during a portion of the debate that he supports the president and his agenda.
GOP strategists in the district expect their candidates to rush to embrace Trump, whose approval rating in the district has hovered around the mid-60s to lower-70s.
DeMaio has made border security a pillar of his messaging so far, and Hunter, a former Marine, has built his political identity on tough border politics and unflagging vocal support of military personnel, two marquee issues for Trump.
Hunter, whose January trial date could be pushed back to as late as 2021 as a separate appeals process plays out, indicated Monday that he did not intend to quietly bow out of the race.
“I’m going to stay in my district and fight and fight and fight,” he said.
Correction 4:50 p.m. | A previous version of this story mischaracterized Demaio’s support for Trump.