SAN DIEGO (AP) — Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter is stepping up efforts to convince voters his Democratic opponent is a security threat because of his family’s background — something the Latino, Arab-American contender forcefully rejects as a desperate attempt by an indicted incumbent.
Former congressman Duncan Hunter Sr., the candidate’s father, called a news conference Tuesday near the USS Midway aircraft carrier in San Diego and showed a photo of Ammar Campa-Najjar with his father, a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Hunter Sr. also talked about Campa-Najjar’s grandfather’s role in Black September, a group responsible for the 1972 terror attack at the Munich Olympics that left 11 Israeli athletes dead.
“This has nothing to do with race, this has to do with terrorism,” said Hunter Sr., who served 14 terms in Congress before his son was elected to his seat after his retirement.
When asked if there is any evidence Campa-Najjar has been linked to terror groups, Hunter Sr. again cited the family association.
Campa-Najjar, who listened as Hunter Sr. spoke, pointed out to reporters that he was raised by his Christian, Mexican-American mother in San Diego and had little to do with his father or that side of his family after his parents got divorced. His grandfather was killed by Israeli commandos 16 years before he was born.
A former Obama administration employee, Campa-Najjar said he was given security clearance twice in 2013 and 2016, and his campaign has received more than $50,000 in contributions from Jewish organizations.
Campa-Najjar said the photo Hunter Sr. displayed was taken in 2015 when his father visited San Diego, marking the first time he had seen him since he was a boy.
He called the news conference by Hunter’s father “an act of desperation” as polls suggest the race in the Republican stronghold of District 50 is tightening three weeks ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm election.
An indictment accuses Hunter and his wife of misspending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on everything from tequila shots to airfare for a family pet. Prosecutors say the couple tried to conceal the illegal spending as donations to charities, including groups for wounded veterans.
Campa-Najjar far outpaced Hunter in fundraising in the third quarter after the incumbent was indicted, according to the latest campaign finance disclosures.
The Democrat raised more than $1.4 million in the third quarter compared to $132,000 by the incumbent.
Before the news conference, Hunter and his campaign have largely avoided the media, meeting instead with voters at small, Republican-friendly events.
In recent weeks, Hunter’s campaign has run attack ads that say Campa-Najjar is trying to “infiltrate Congress.” It also distributed a letter signed by three retired Marine generals who echo Hunter’s claims that his opponent is a security threat. All three work as lobbyists for the defense industry, and at least one has campaigned for Hunter.
The ads have been assailed as racist by critics, including dozens of national security experts.
Campa-Najjar said Hunter, a former Marine who resigned from the House Armed Services Committee after House Speaker Paul Ryan asked him to relinquish his committee assignments, would no longer qualify for a security clearance. Hunter did not attend the news conference.
Campa-Najjar said he got to where he is by his own merit and character “in spite of my family.”
“I don’t need my Dad to stand here to fight my battles,” Campa-Najjar said. “I’m my own man.”