Hunter Reeling

California Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine)

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 7, 2019 — In addition to his legal woes, indicted California Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) now appears to have severe political problems according to a new just-released CA-50 district study.

A Survey USA poll conducted for the San Diego Union-Tribune (Sept. 27-Oct. 2; 592 likely CA-50 voters; 671 respondents were asked favorability questions about the top four candidates, but the electoral questions were asked only of those who described themselves as likely voters) tested the seven announced candidates for the March 3 California jungle primary.

The S-USA results find Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, the 2018 party nominee who held Rep. Hunter to a four-point win, holding 31 percent support. Former San Diego City councilman and mayoral and congressional candidate Carl DeMaio (R) follows with 20 percent, ex-Rep. Darrell Issa, who recently announced his candidacy records 16 percent, while Rep. Hunter posts only an 11 percent preference factor.

Rather surprisingly, state Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee), also a recent candidate but a public official who represents almost 90 percent of the 50th District, records a very low four percent. The two independent candidates have three percent combined.

It is no surprise that Campa-Najjar is leading. In a crowded field with only one candidate from a particular party, it becomes a simple strategy to coalesce the party members behind the lone contender. While Campa-Najjar will almost certainly advance to the general election in this type of jungle format with so many candidates splitting his opposition party vote, we also must see that 52 percent of the poll respondents chose a Republican candidate. This obviously bodes poorly for the sole Democrat in the general election.

The setup here is similar to last year’s open 49th District, the adjacent seat from which Rep. Issa retired. In the June 2018 election, Republican Diane Harkey finished first by an eight-point margin in a field of 16 candidates but, in the general with only two contenders, it was Democrat Mike Levin who recorded a 56-44 percent victory.

The S-USA poll contained further bad news for Rep. Hunter. In addition to him posting a poor 22:43 percent favorability index, 59 percent say they “believe he may have broken the law.” Only 13 percent agree with Hunter’s claim that he is the victim of a political witch hunt.

Of the four candidates tested for favorability, only DeMaio, now a local radio talk show host, scored in positive territory. The respondents awarded him a 34:20 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio. The three others, including Hunter, were viewed negatively. Both Issa and Campa-Najjar were viewed slightly negative (Issa: 30:31 percent; Campa-Najjar: 26:28 percent).

The Survey USA poll, at least for now, suggests that the Republicans will avoid their nightmare scenario in what is one of their few safe Golden State districts. That would have been Rep. Hunter filing for re-election and still having a strong enough base to secure a general election position because the large number of Republican candidates would split the anti-Hunter vote. If the congressman were to be found guilty at trial, and then forced to withdraw from the ballot, the GOP would have no recourse to replace him.

Because this is a multi-party primary where all candidates are placed on the same ballot irrespective of political affiliation, the first vote is merely a qualifying election and not a partisan contest. Therefore, under this system, no political party is guaranteed ballot placement in the general election.

The 50th District lies almost wholly within San Diego County, with just the city of Temecula in Riverside County being outside. President Trump carried the seat, 55-40 percent, down from Mitt Romney’s 60-38 percent spread. It is one of just seven California districts (of 53) that Trump won.

Though this Survey USA poll places Rep. Hunter in very poor political position, it gives Republican leaders encouragement that the party will hold the seat in the next regular election.

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