SAN DIEGO (CN) – U.S. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter doubled down on xenophobia at a press conference at the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday as late polling shows he’s still likely to win re-election despite facing federal charges of misusing campaign funds and the racist rhetoric his campaign used against his Mexican-Palestinian opponent.
“Right now we have an army of migrants bearing down on the U.S. from multiple third world countries,” Hunter said Thursday as roosters crowed and dogs barked beyond the mesa overlooking the double fences already in place along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego.
“There are terrorist elements in these caravans; you don’t know one or the other. You don’t let anybody into your house without knowing who they are,” the congressman added, echoing similar claims made by President Donald Trump in recent days.
With less than a week before the Nov. 6 election, Hunter – the first congressman to endorse then-candidate Trump’s bid for the presidency – announced he sent a letter to the president urging him to use the military troops being sent to the border to meet Central American asylum-seekers to build a road along the border wall. Hunter said the press conference was not “campaign ploy or stunt.”
“This is not about immigration. This is about building the first part of the wall,” Hunter said before declining to answer reporters’ questions about his re-election campaign or the charges he faces in the Southern District of California.
Federal prosecutors indicted Hunter and his wife and campaign manager Margaret Hunter this past August, claiming they misspent $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, vacations and school tuition for their kids.
Following the Hunters’ indictment and the congressman’s subsequent removal from congressional committees by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Hunter was still polling favorably and likely to win re-election in District 50, a Republican stronghold.
A poll by 10News and The San Diego Union-Tribune released Tuesday showed the race tightening, however, with Hunter leading by 3 percentage points. The election prognosticator website FiveThirtyEight gives Hunter with a better than 77 percent chance of being re-elected.
But re-election isn’t guaranteed for Hunter and the high-stakes race has gotten ugly.
Hunter’s opponent – 29-year-old first-time candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar – has been the subject of racist campaign fodder falsely linking the staffer for former President Barack Obama to terrorism.
Hunter’s own father, Duncan L. Hunter – who represented the district for decades before the map was redrawn and his son ran to succeed him – held his own press conference to attack Campa-Najjar’s Palestinian heritage and his grandfather’s involvement in the deadly terrorist attack at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.
Campa-Najjar has renounced the attack. His grandfather, Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, died 16 years before Campa-Najjar was born.
But the racially charged rhetoric hasn’t necessarily convinced conservative voters to support Hunter.