A criminal indictment against Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr. (R-CA) won’t keep his name from appearing on the November ballot alongside the Democrat grandson of a Palestinian terrorist as the only two options for voters in California’s 50th congressional district.
Hunter and his wife were indicted this week after a long-known FBI investigation into alleged misuse of campaign funds. News of the investigation broke well ahead of California’s June 5 primary, but the indictment came after the only two general election candidate options were locked in for the November ballot.
Voters in Hunter’s district gave the incumbent a commanding first-place finish despite the prevalent news reports on the investigation into Hunter’s campaign finances. Hunter garnered 47.4 percent of the vote in the heavily Republican district east of San Diego, far ahead of second-place finisher Ammar Campa-Najjar’s 17.6 percent.
He first won election to the seat in 2008, succeeding his father Duncan Hunter, Sr., who held a seat in Congress from 1981 until his son took the seat.
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells was one of three Republicans in the June primary election who altogether took home 62.4 percent of the vote. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune that should Hunter be re-elected, then convicted, and step down, Wells would run again.
Under California’s “top-two” primary, established through Proposition 14 in 2010, the top two primary election vote-winners move on to face off in the general election, irrespective of party. A party cannot remove a candidate, and no write-ins are allowed on the general election ballot.
On whether the California GOP could replace Hunter if he dropped out, Flash Report editor Jon Fleischman said, “Nope. Under Prop. 14 there are no longer party nominees. Under Prop. 14 Hunter may not be replaced. Either he will be reelected or the Democrat on the ballot will be — there is no provision to replace him. Not by the party, or by anyone else.”
He added: “Prop 14 sucks.”
East County consultant John Dadian has known the Hunter family for some time. He indicated to the Union-Tribune that Hunter could still win re-election in November, but the Democrat National Committee is likely “licking its chops.” He conceded the real possibility that the otherwise Republican district could go Democrat in light of the indictment.
Campa-Najjar is a former Obama administration Labor Department official who has never held public office before. He has received criticism for the fact that his grandfather was a terrorist linked to the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Campa-Najjar has worked to distance himself from his ancestor, calling for peace in the Middle East.
Democratic strategist for Campa-Najjar Joe Trippi told the Associated Press that the campaign has seen a fundraising spike. On Tuesday,Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-CA) urged Twitter followers to donate to Campa-Najjar’s campaign.
But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) seemed to remain unsure if Campa-Najjar could overcome the district’s strong Republican identity and would not commit to using DNC campaign funds in the race.
Tuesday’s indictment accuses Hunter and his wife of spending $250,000 of campaign funds over several years on food; personal and family vacations and events; theater tickets; a plane ride for the family’s bunny; thirty shots of tequila and a steak at a bachelor party; golf, and other miscellaneous expenses.
Hunter has expressed a lack of concern with regard to the indictment and said he expects to prevail according to the AP, citing a Wednesday television interview. In a statement, Hunter indicated the charges are politically motivated, and complained that the FBI had never interviewed him.
In June, the Cook Political Report shifted the prediction for Hunter’s seat from Republican to solid Republican even with knowledge of the FBI investigation into Hunter’s alleged misuse of campaign funds.
Voters in the 50th district had mixed responses to the indictment Wednesday in comments to the Union-Tribune. Among supporters and opponents of Hunter there were those quick to defend him against the charges, those unsure how it would affect them, and others who decried the sitting congressman.