SAN DIEGO, Calif.—Congressman Duncan Hunter had a problem.
The California Republican was supposed to coast to reelection this year. A square-jawed ex-Marine who inherited his father’s House seat in 2008, Hunter had won each of his past five elections by a wide margin. His district, a collection of inland San Diego suburbs, was solid GOP territory, and few campaign watchers expected that to change anytime soon.
On August 22, federal prosecutors charged the lawmaker and his wife with stealing $250,000 in campaign funds. In a 47-page indictment littered with galling details, the Hunters were accused of using campaign cash to fund lavish family vacations; to pay for groceries, golf outings, and tequila shots; and even to fly a pet rabbit across the country. To cover their tracks, the indictment alleged, the Hunters often claimed that their purchases were for charitable organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project.
The political backlash was swift and severe. Hunter was stripped of his committee assignments in the House. His fund-raising dried up, and Democratic money flooded into the district. When he tried to defend himself on Fox News, he exacerbated the crisis by appearing to pin the blame for the scandal on his wife.
Publicly disgraced, out of money, and facing both jail time and a suddenly surging challenger—what was an indicted congressman to do?
Eventually, Hunter seemed to arrive at his answer: Try to eke out a win by waging one of the most brazenly anti-Muslim smear campaigns in recent history.
In the final weeks of the election, Hunter has aired ominous ads warning that his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, is “working to infiltrate Congress” with the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. He has circulated campaign literature claiming the Democrat is a “national security threat” who might reveal secret U.S. troop movements to enemies abroad if elected. While Hunter himself floats conspiracy theories from the stump about a wave of “radical Muslims” running for office in America, his campaign is working overtime to cast Campa-Najjar as a nefarious figure reared and raised by terrorists.