Congress

Despite Indictment, Rep. Duncan Hunter Remains Favorite to Win Another Term in Congress

The Republican lawmaker is accused of misusing campaign dollars for for personal expenses including a trip to Italy, massive bar tabs and video games.

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It's hard to be too surprised about the recent indictment of Rep. Duncan Hunter, the San Diego-area Republican accused (along with his wife) of using $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses including a trip to Italy, massive bar tabs and video games. OK, it's startling whenever any congressman faces charges, but the federal indictment probably won't shock those who have followed past news reports about a man sometimes mocked as a member of the GOP "Bros Caucus" because of his apparent frat-boy lifestyle.

The 47-page indictment also accuses the couple of filing false campaign-finance records. There's the allegation that his wife, Margaret, spent $152 on cosmetics and told the campaign they were gift-basket items for a charity. Even tackier, the Justice Department alleges that when Rep. Hunter wanted to buy "Hawaii shorts," his wife allegedly told him to buy them at a golf pro shop so they could attribute the expense to balls for wounded warriors. We've long known about the $600 to fly their pet rabbit on a trip—something the campaign attributes to an innocent billing mistake. But there's little mistaking the lifestyle enjoyed by this servant of the people.

The Hunters pleaded not guilty and deny the allegations. Rep. Hunter's statement accuses the Justice Department of waging a political witch hunt designed to harm his re-election chances. He said the campaign made mistakes but they repaid those things.

The scandal still brings to mind the late journalist H.L. Mencken's observation about politicians in general: "These men…are seldom if ever moved by anything rationally describable as public spirit; there is actually no more public spirit among them than among so many burglars or street-walkers. Their purpose, first, last and all the time, is to promote their private advantage, and to that end…they exercise all the vast powers that are in their hands."

I'm not as cynical as Mencken, but two elements of Hunter scandal still seem amazing. First, after the indictment was issued Rep. Hunter seemed to have thrown his wife under the bus. Then when journalists started asking questions about Margaret's role in this, Duncan demanded that they leave his wife out of it. That's an unseemly approach, and something that may upset some voters more than the details of the indictment itself.

Here's what the congressman originally told Fox News: "When I went to Iraq in 2003, the first time, I gave her power of attorney, and she handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got into Congress. She was also the campaign manager so whatever she did, that'll be looked at too, I'm sure. But I didn't do it. I didn't spend any money illegally." Then Rep. Hunter recently told the media: "Leave my wife out of it, leave my family out of it. It's me they're after, anyway." That's a decent recovery, but who wouldn't have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the Hunter household after the first quotation?

But probably the most interesting news is that despite this terrible publicity, Duncan Hunter remains the odds-on favorite to retain his congressional seat in November. The latest polls give him an eight-point lead over Democratic challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar. The San Diego Union-Tribune's Joshua Emerson Smith captured the Democrats' problem with admirable understatement: "Campa-Najjar, the son of a Mexican-American mother and a Middle Eastern father, doesn't appear to be an obvious fit for the deeply conservative district. A staunch environmentalist, he's also the grandson of Muhammed Yusuf al-Najjar, the head of the intelligence wing of the Palestinian political party Fatah, whose members planned the murder of Israeli Olympians in 1972. Yusuf al-Najjar was subsequently assassinated by the Israeli government."

The 29 year-old Campa-Najjar notes that his grandfather died 16 years before he was born and has renounced his legacy, which is fair enough. You can't blame someone for his grandfather's past. Campa-Najjar has also built ties with the local Jewish community. But he's still not "an obvious fit" for the pro-Trump district when you look at his progressive policy positions. Of course, this is the problem with our increasingly polarized politics.

As the GOP moves in a nationalistic direction, the Democratic Party moves in a leftist direction. Even if your side's candidate is despicable—and refer back to Mencken, who viewed all politicians that way—the other side's candidate is almost always going to be unacceptable. How many Republican voters there, appalled by the allegations in the indictment, will be comfortable voting for Hunter's alternative?

Unfortunately, California's top-two primary means that only Hunter and Campa-Najjar will be on the November ballot for the 50th congressional district. There are no third-party candidates and no chance to even write in a protest vote. So no one should be surprised when a damaged-goods congressman wins another term in the House of Representatives.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

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  1. “As the GOP moves in a nationalistic direction, the Democratic Party moves in a leftist direction.”

    Reason can’t bring themselves to say the Democrats are the Globalist Party.

    1. Probably the same effort to be polite that generates use of “nationalistic” rather than “bigoted.”

      1. It’s weird. You are clearly the most bigoted commentor on the board, but you go around talking about other peoples bigotry.

        1. I don’t mind when right-wingers try to play the ‘Democrats are the real racists’ or “liberals are the real bigots’ angle, because Republicans and conservatives will continue to be hurt by any discussion of gender, gays, race, immigration or the like until they stop making intolerance a foundation of their electoral coalition.

          What’s bizarre is how often right-wingers voluntarily engage in debates they can’t win in modern America.

          1. What’s weird is that the Party that insists that minorities can’t possibly succeed unless we actively dumb down expectations just for them, which sets them up for failure by putting them into situations they aren’t ready to handle, are the well-meaning ones, yet the Party that insists that merit and hard work is important for success, and that preferences should be given to no one but to those that earn it, are the racists.

    2. I’ve been seeing the term “globalist” and “and fascist globalist” used by other righties lately. Fox & Friends? Or Hannity?

    3. I’m not sure that’s quite fair to say. It’s the party that has the most globalists in it, probably. I’m not sure it’s their main thrust, though.

  2. Hunter. . . is he the Republican man who tried to duck ethics charges deriving from his spending by pointing the finger at his wife, or is he the pro-life, family values crusader who pressed his mistress to get an abortion, or . . . ah, does it really matter? So long as he is a reliable vote for bigotry and backwardness, the Republican base will stick with him.

    1. Yo! Preacher man! Dig it! When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. Live it!

  3. “You can’t blame someone for his grandfather’s past.”

    Unless his ancestor was a Confederate soldier.

    1. Look dipshit, when a Republican Senator from GA says shit like “We lost the Civil War…..but we’re a better place for business than the Yankee states” then it makes sense to suggest a connection.

      1. If you catch this mothrfucker praising his grandfather, flying his grandfather’s flag, and internalizing and adopting his grandfather’s struggles then it makes sense to paint them with the same brush. These modern Confederate lovers are even more pathetic than the originals because they should know better.

        1. You’re the one who wanted to be in the same country with them.

        2. It is not illegal to be pathetic in the eyes of someone who doesn’t like you politically. It is not illegal to honor your Confederate war hero ancestors, if you have any, or the battles they participated in, or the banners they flew or the songs they sang. If you don’t like it, get a life.

          I have one Johnny Reb in the long-ago, who served in the Arkansas militia. He survived the war and moved to Texas. His descendants ended up in the oil field construction line.

          I have four Yankee ancestors I honor for their service in the blue uniforms. They all died. The first fell at Antietam. One was killed somewhere in Pennsylvania. One died of camp fever in the lines protecting Washington. The last, and saddest, was an emaciated prisoner rescued from the notorious Andersonville prison camp who died on the steamship take him back to New York City.

          1. Do you have any Tory ancestors? People always talk about the awkwardness of having ancestors on various sides of the Civil War, because we have been obsessed with the Civil War from the day it started to the present. We act like that was the only “brother against brother” issue America has ever had to go through!

            People aren’t ashamed of having Rebel ancestors but no one talks about the Tory ancestors.

      2. Conservatives should be proud of our past. Trump has proven embracing our heritage is a political winner.

    2. Unless his ancestor was a Confederate soldier.

      It would be wrong to disparage someone for having a Confederate ancestor.

      Unless the descendant venerates the Confederacy or Confederates, which is evidence of vestigial bigotry, in which case that person deserves the unrelenting scorn of better people.

      1. Particularly if he had been a member of the KKK. Fortunately the last former member of the KKK had been chased out of Congress years ago!

        Oh, wait, my mistake. He left Congress by dying, after serving longer than anyone else in the Senate.

        And that Senator was Robert Byrd, Democrat from West Virginia.

        We keep hearing about how Republicans are all Klansmen, yet it’s funny how all the people connected to the KKK are Democrats.

  4. Speaking of “balls for wounded warriors,” how long have guys who got their dicks blown off in Iraq been waiting for new dicks? These were supposed to be one of the easiest things to make in the brave new age of regenerative medicine that was supposed to make the present age of prostheses and plastic surgery look unimaginably savage and primitive in just a few years. The “first steps” have been five years away for damn near 20 years now. Stem cells have to have been the biggest scientific overpromise of the present era.

    1. Among the reasons that invading the wrong country was a massive, counterproductive clustermuck for which everyone involved deserves opprobrium, this is one of the strongest.

      In a just world, the jerks who pushed that one would be unable to leave the house without being shamed unceasingly by fellow citizens. The torturers and war profiteers deserve worse.

  5. Is this a good sign, that an incumbent (albeit an indicted one) is only single digits ahead of an environmentalist zealot terrorist-diaper baby in one of the darkest-red districts in the country? Yet another sign of big trouble on the horizon!

  6. His Republican opponent has some pretty good ads, but Bob Menendez is going to reelection yet again despite his long record of corruption and hung jury on a giant pile of bribery charges,

    1. Isn’t Hillary campaigning for him?

      1. Sounds like something he’d want about as much as his opponent would want Chris Christie out there. I bet she will be a big hit in Union City, getting the Cubans all fired up to turn out for Team Blue.

  7. I think this is the same district that Randall “Duke” Cunningham represented, or close to it, before he went to jail for selling his house a couple million over market value to Jack Abramhoff. For fuck sake San Diego, get your shit together.

    1. Yeah, with your harbor and all, you should be more like San Francisco.

    2. If he had been indicted before the primary, he might well have lost.

      But, by a strange coincidence, prosecutors waited until after the primary to indict him, so that voters now have a choice between this guy and a 20 something labor organizer.

      Hunter seems like a sleazeball personally. But his voting record is OK, and I think voters should resent being manipulated by the state in this way.

      1. That is very fucked up, however not surprising. They probably sat on that for months.

  8. Why does anyone give money to politicians?

    If you want a candidate to win, drive them around to meet people and get them on the ballot.

  9. Do you think it’s a coincidence that these indictments were made after the primary but before the general election Misusing campaign funds should be a civil matter or a matter for investigative reporting. Criminal prosecution is not warranted, and it is prone to political abuse.

    The alternative to Hunter at this point is a 20 something pretty boy, labor activist, and grandson of the mastermind of the Munich terrorists.

    What people expect of Hunter is to cast a few votes for lower taxes and less government, nothing more. The belief that politicians are somehow morally superior was ever only held by fools, and even they should have figured out how idiotic it is after Kennedy, Nixon, and the Clintons.

  10. Well then it sounds like those were campaign funds well misspent.

  11. You can’t blame someone for his grandfather’s past.

    I can’t “blame” him for it, but I can certainly assume that his world view is influenced by his family.

    Campa-Najjar has also built ties with the local Jewish community.

    Yeah, like wealthy American Jewish communities concerns itself much with Palestinian terrorists.

  12. >>> That’s an unseemly approach

    how else does (R) get elected in CA but to act like (D)? der.

  13. California’s top-two primary; put in place by Progressive Democrats to ensure they had little to no opposition throughout most of CA.

  14. Mexican-Arab ancestry with a Palestinian terrorist grandfather. If he would claim to be gay or transgendered, he would have enough intersectionality points to be the default nominee for the Democrats in 2020.

  15. Despite FBI investigation and scandals, Hillary Clinton remains favorite to win presidency.

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