Can Duncan Hunter Pull Through?

Treat this post like both a normal article and a “Races to Watch,” in one. 

On August 21st, 2018, US Congressman Duncan Hunter was indicted on 60 counts of wire fraud, falsifying records, campaign finance violations, and conspiracy. Practically the next day, Hunter went right back to campaigning for re-election, where he lobbed attacks against his opponent’s Palestinian roots.

If that above sentence sounds preposterous, then welcome to the wild world of California’s 50th congressional district. Hunter, a five-time incumbent Republican, is running against Ammar Campa-Najjar, a former Obama aide and small business owner.

This district encompasses the San Diego suburbs, and because it has a partisan lean R +11, many called the race a shoo-in for Hunter. His numerous scandals —paired with the fact that this is a blue year — have proven to be possible game-changers.

Interestingly, though, forecasts for CA-50 haven’t painted as terrible a story as Campa-Najjar may have hoped. Indeed, Cook Political ReportInside Elections, and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball all have this race as Lean Republican, and FiveThirtyEight gives Hunter a 7-in-9 chance of keeping his seat.


To be fair, the polling is less favorable for Hunter. Though he leads in every survey, his margins are far from the winning margins of 42 and 27 points he saw in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

Importantly, this race tells us how politics are changing nationwide, in a few ways:

  • CA-50 is a largely suburban area, and this type of district will be key if Democrats want to take back the House (as I’ve mentioned before).
  • Duncan is a longtime incumbent, inheriting the seat from his father. Despite this, his expected”advantage” is virtually nonexistent, and that’s a trend we’ve seen seeing for a while.
  • Hunter’s corruption charges buck the notion that new-age politicians are immune from lasting scandal. It’s still important to note that his chances of winning aren’t totally sunk — he’s still a favorite, after all. Thus, we’re left asking: how much do scandals actually matter to voters, and which ones are the most damaging? 

In all likelihood, the results in California’s 50th congressional district will be used to advance some narrative about longstanding political norms. Either good prevails in the end, or “evil” always wins.

Even if this does happen, I encourage you to think about the lesson’s we’ll learn next Tuesday night.

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