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How far Duncan Hunter is prepared to go to win

There's no shortage of ugly races in 2018, but Rep. Duncan Hunter's (R-Calif.) message is almost certainly the most offensive of the year.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.

The federal criminal indictment against Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) paints a rather brutal picture. As we discussed over the summer, prosecutors have alleged that the Republican congressman and his wife stole more than $250,000 in campaign funds and used the money to pay for personal purchases, ranging from trips to school tuition to dental work.

A Washington Post report on this in August highlighted the Hunters' efforts to cover up their alleged misdeeds, often claiming their purchases were for charities -- including veterans' charities -- claims the indictment says were fraudulent. The Post's article added that the prosecutors' allegations "read like a caricature of a corrupt, greedy politician."

It's against this backdrop that the California Republican is running for re-election anyway. And as it turns out, Hunter probably likes his chances: his 50th congressional district is among the "reddest" on the West Coast. In fact, Donald Trump may have lost California by 30 points, but he won Hunter's district by 15 points.

But if the conservative incumbent is confident, he has a funny way of showing it. Indeed, if Hunter liked his chances, the GOP incumbent wouldn't have to resort to tactics like these against Democratic rival, Ammar Campa-Najjar.

"He changed his name from Ammar Yasser Najjar to Ammar Campa-Najjar," said Hunter, "so he sounds Hispanic.... That is how hard, by the way, that the radical Muslims are trying to infiltrate the U.S. government."Actually, Ammar Campa-Najjar is Christian. And Campa is his Hispanic mother's family name.

And he's not trying to "infiltrate" anything.

This comes on the heels of a Hunter ad suggesting his challenger is some kind of terrorist sympathizer as part of a commercial filled with demonstrably false claims.

There's no shortage of ugly races in 2018, but Hunter's message is almost certainly the most offensive of the year.

CNN's Andrew Kaczynski argued yesterday that the GOP congressman "is running one of the most openly anti-Muslim campaigns we've ever seen, with shameful smears of his opponent.... Hunter now has a letter claiming his opponent would provide information on U.S. military operations, secretly provided to members of Congress, to terrorists. It's an anti-Muslim campaign against a person who isn't even Muslim."

It's that last part that really stands out for me. Attacking Muslims is wrong. Attacking Muslims as some kind of inherent security threat is offensive. But attacking a Christian as a Muslim is just ridiculous, even by 2018 standards.

For his part, Ammar Campa-Najjar is running on an anti-corruption platform, pushing a specific slogan: No one wants a "lawbreaker for a lawmaker."

Ed Kilgore added yesterday that Campa-Najjar's biography "is very American Dream-y: He went to community college, graduated from San Diego State University; worked on Barack Obama's reelection campaign; worked at the White House, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Labor Department (where he focused on apprenticeship programs), before returning to his hometown of San Diego. On the tender side of 30, Campa-Najjar launched an unlikely congressional campaign, but proved to be a remarkable fundraiser and championed a progressive platform at just the right time, defeating the national Democratic Party's favorite, ex-Navy SEAL Josh Butner."

And by all appearances, he's also caused a degree of panic inside Duncan Hunter's campaign headquarters. If the indicted incumbent weren't nervous, the smear campaign wouldn't be necessary.