After months of speculation, former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio made it official: He’s going to challenge fellow Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter in 2020.
On Monday, DeMaio announced he will run for the congressional seat held by Hunter, the embattled six-term incumbent representing California’s 50th District, an area that includes eastern and northeastern San Diego County.
At his news conference in Escondido, DeMaio was flanked by about 40 supporters.
“I will use the congressional seat to shine a light on corruption and inefficiency in government,” DeMaio said. “I will use my stature as a member of Congress to raise resources nationally and across our state so we can fight unnecessary and costly tax hikes and advance reform.”
In an apparent reference to the possibility that Hunter could leave his seat in Congress amid ongoing legal troubles, DeMaio said a special election could be held before the end of the year.
Hunter, who resides in Alpine, is scheduled to go on trial Sept. 10 on 60 criminal counts, including charges that he used $250,000 in campaign funds for family bills, vacations, alleged affairs and a list of other personal expenses. Hunter has pleaded not guilty to those charges, and his defense team claims the expenses were for legitimate political purposes.
Hunter’s wife, Margaret, was originally indicted alongside her husband and pleaded not guilty. On June 13, Margaret Hunter changed her plea to guilty on a single count of conspiracy that named Duncan Hunter as her co-conspirator.
“For too long the 50th District has not been represented by someone who can effectively advocate for them without being distracted by scandal,” DeMaio said in a written statement,"but that is about to change as I will take a far more proactive and hands-on approach to tackling the issues facing our neighborhoods whether they are federal, state or local.”
A spokesman for Hunter did not respond to a request for comment.
DeMaio, a conservative radio host, is the fourth Republican to enter the race for Hunter’s seat but is so far the only one who carries significant name recognition.
Even with his profile and radio following, DeMaio is likely to face an uphill battle in winning the congressional seat.
Since leaving San Diego City Council in 2012, DeMaio has come up short in every other bid he has made for elected office, including a mayoral run in 2012 and a congressional campaign in 2014 in the 52nd District challenging Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego).
DeMaio also faces opposition from the Deputy Sheriff’s Assn. of San Diego County, which identified itself as “the largest donor to the local Republican Party in the last cycle” in a statement Monday.
The group said it was launching a website, AnybodyButCarl.com, to get the word out about what it described as DeMaio’s “long history of opposing law enforcement, including voting twice to eliminate death benefits for families of police officers slain in the line of duty.”
DeMaio has carved out a niche in conservative radio and as an advocate for several conservative causes in California.
DeMaio said at the news conference that leaving his radio show will be hard, but he feels confident he will be able to continue the conversation using other platforms.
He is chairman for the conservative political group Reform California.
DeMaio was a leading voice behind the effort to repeal the gas tax last year. Although that effort ultimately failed, it gained some support in San Diego County.
Ammar Campa-Najjar, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Hunter in the 50th District in the last election and is running for the seat again, released a statement in response to DeMaio’s announcement.
“The number of Republicans who’ve lost faith in Congressman Hunter continues to grow,” the statement said. “While they pander and jockey for support from party elites in Washington, D.C., I will continue to focus on all voters from all parties in East County, North County and Temecula. As the only candidate born in East County, I’ll proudly fight for good paying jobs, tax cuts for middle-class families, and more affordable healthcare for the forgotten people of my district.”
Clark and Cook write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.