California Democrat, smeared over terrorist grandfather, fails in midterm bid
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California Democrat, smeared over terrorist grandfather, fails in midterm bid

Despite being indicted, GOP incumbent Duncan Hunter keeps seat after claiming Palestinian-descended Ammar Campa-Najjar was a ‘security risk,’ prompting condemnation

Democratic congressional candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar talks to supporters in San Diego, California, November 6, 2018. (Denis Poroy/AP)
Democratic congressional candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar talks to supporters in San Diego, California, November 6, 2018. (Denis Poroy/AP)

SAN DIEGO — California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter won a sixth term Wednesday despite facing federal corruption charges involving the personal spending of campaign money.

Hunter beat first-time Democratic candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar in a deeply red San Diego-area district that US President Donald Trump won by double digits in 2016.

During their campaigns Hunter had called Campa-Najjar a “national security risk,” and accused him of being an “Islamist” over his Palestinian ancestry, prompting San Diego rabbis to demand the Republican desist.

Campa-Najjar was born in San Diego and is Christian. His grandfather was Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, a mastermind of the terrorist murder of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and coaches at the 1972 games in Munich, Germany.

Campa-Najjar, who lived for a time as a youth in the Gaza Strip, has rejected his grandfather’s actions.

The GOP incumbent won 54.3 percent to Campa-Najjar’s 45.7%.

Rep. Duncan Hunter,R-Calif., speaks during an interview at a call center in Santee, California, November 6, 2018. (Denis Poroy/AP)

The race was considered a test of partisanship in the Trump era, and Hunter became one of the few candidates in US history to be re-elected while indicted.

Hunter thanked his supporters and said in a statement that he intended “to make it business-as-usual in working with President Trump for the next two years to achieve more success, especially given the challenge of having a Democrat-led House.”

Hunter was one of two indicted Republican congressmen running for re-election. Rep. Chris Collins of New York is accused of insider trading. His race was too close to call Wednesday.

Both were early supporters of Trump and called the charges retribution for his election. The president had criticized his Justice Department over the charges, saying prosecutors had jeopardized “two easy wins.”

Trump, however, did not officially endorse either candidate.

Democratic congressional candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar talks to supporters in San Diego, November 6, 2018. (Denis Poroy/AP)

Campa-Najjar, 29, a former Obama White House aide, was largely unknown until the race drew wide attention when Hunter and his wife were indicted on allegations of illegally spending more than $250,000 in campaign money for personal expenses — from family trips to tequila shots.

They have pleaded not guilty and Hunter has said he is eager to go to trial.

After the indictment, Campa-Najjar’s campaign contributions nearly doubled and polls suggested the race was tightening.

The Hunter name is something of a political dynasty in the 50th Congressional District, where registered Republicans have a nearly 15 percentage point edge over Democrats. His father was elected to the seat in 1980 and held it until his son won it in 2008.

Hunter, a 41-year-old former Marine, stepped up attacks on his rival in the past month, raising questions about Campa-Najjar’s Palestinian father who served in the Palestine Liberation Organization and his grandfather.

A Hunter ad falsely claimed Campa-Najjar was a security risk.

Campa-Najjar, who was given security clearances to work in the Obama administration, was raised by his Mexican-American mother in San Diego and said he had little to do with his Palestinian father. His grandfather was killed by Israeli commandos before he was born.

Critics, including national security experts, assailed Hunter’s political ad as racist.

It is unclear how effective the attacks were in swaying votes in the largely white, conservative district that’s adjacent to Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and has a large veteran population.

Campa-Najjar called Hunter an embarrassment and tried to appeal to Republicans by asking voters to “put country over party.”

A few lawmakers have been re-elected while indicted and gone on to be exonerated. More have been convicted and later resigned.

In 2014, Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York was re-elected while under indictment and later resigned after pleading guilty to tax evasion. After serving more than seven months in prison, he ran again in the June primary and lost.

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