A Democratic candidate for a California House seat invoked the name of a prominent Republican senator who famously rejected an Islamophobic attack to slap down a similar narrative being used against him by the GOP incumbent.
“The first thought that came to mind … is that Republican John McCain would be rolling in his grave today if he saw this ad,” Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar told ABC News on Wednesday about his opponent’s attempt to link him to terrorism. His reference was to a 2008 campaign moment when McCain, then the GOP presidential nominee, defended Democratic opponent Barack Obama against a voter who said he was an “Arab.” McCain died in August.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Campa-Najjar’s opponent, is facing a tough battle for re-election in a conservative district near San Diego after being indicted in August on charges of using hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal expenses. He has enlisted his father, a longtime former congressman himself, and several retired Marine Corps generals to accuse Campa-Najjar of sympathizing with terrorists.
Hunter’s campaign further claimed in an ad that Campa-Najjar changed his name to hide his family’s connection to terrorism, and portrayed him as a Muslim radical who would “infiltrate” Congress and present a threat to national security.
“More than any poll … that ad shows you that I’m not a threat to national security, but I sure as heck am a threat to Duncan Hunter’s seat,” Campa-Najjar added in the ABC News interview.
Campa-Najjar, 29, who is of Palestinian and Latino descent, would be among the youngest members of Congress if elected in November. He previously worked in Obama’s administration as a Labor Department public affairs officer, where he carried a federal security clearance. He’s also Christian.
Hunter’s attacks reach into Campa-Najjar’s controversial family history, including the participation of his grandfather, Yasser al-Najjar, in the deadly attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Campa-Najjar said he never knew his grandfather, who was killed by Israeli agents 16 years before the candidate was born. He has condemned the Munich attack and said he shouldn’t be judged by his family member’s actions.
Hunter Sr., the GOP congressman’s father, spoke to reporters in front of a retired aircraft carrier in downtown San Diego earlier this week to lay out his case against Campa-Najjar. Holding up poster boards featuring images of Campa-Najjar’s family, the former congressman accused the Democrat of ongoing ties to his father, a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“Very simple, this has nothing to do with race, it has to do with terrorism,” Hunter Sr. told reporters. “This is terrorism.”
Campa-Najjar, listening quietly nearby, shook the former congressman’s hand after the presentation said he is all but estranged from his father.
“Duncan Hunter Jr. can’t stand on his own two feet like a grown man and fight his own battles,” Campa-Najjar said. “He can’t stand next to me.”