On Tuesday, a federal grand jury indicted GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA-50) and his wife Margaret on charges of wire fraud, falsifying records and misusing $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses including an Italian vacation, dental work and flying a pet rabbit to accompany the family. Hunter's race moves from Solid Republican to the Lean Republican column, with the potential to move further.
The charges aren't unexpected, but they couldn't come at a worse time for Republicans. Hunter and New York Rep. Chris Collins (NY-27), the first two House members to endorse Donald Trump in 2016, are now both under indictment. But unlike in New York, where Collins is seeking to remove his name from the ballot, there is no mechanism for Republicans to replace Hunter on the California ballot.
This military-heavy San Diego County seat is the most ruby red district in Southern California: it voted for President Trump 55 percent to 40 percent in 2016 and reelected Hunter with 64 percent. But Hunter received just 47 percent in June's top-two primary, while two other Republicans combined for 15 percent. Former Obama Labor Department official Ammar Campa-Najjar advanced with 18 percent.
Campa-Najjar, who grew up in El Cajon and is of Mexican and Palestinian descent, once served as communications director of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. But he's considerably to the left of the district and wasn't DC Democrats' first choice. In the primary, he ran as the "true progressive" and beat out former Navy SEAL Josh Butner, who might have had a better profile to take on Hunter, a former Marine.
Campa-Najjar has outraised the incumbent $1.1 million to $864,000 this cycle, and has consulting help from high-profile Democratic strategists including Joe Trippi. But he's also had to make clear he strongly disavows his grandfather, who masterminded the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes. Hunter hasn't yet attempted to politicize Campa-Najjar's unfortunate family history.
Hunter has reimbursed his campaign account $65,000 since the House Ethics investigation began in 2016. But it could take weeks to determine how Hunter responds to the indictment and whether the indictment suddenly makes voters more inclined to vote for a Democrat. This seat has been in the Hunter family since 1980, but it's another headache for the GOP in what should be a safe seat.
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