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Rep. Duncan Hunter leads in reelection fight despite federal indictment, poll finds

Rep. Duncan Hunter leads in reelection fight despite federal indictment, poll finds
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) leaves a federal courthouse in San Diego last month after pleading not guilty to charges of illegally using his campaign account for personal expenses. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, who faces federal charges of misusing campaign funds, remains ahead in his reelection bid, with some voters planning to support him even though they believe him to be guilty, according to a new poll.

The poll released Tuesday reported that 49% of potential voters in his inland San Diego County district said they would vote for the indicted Alpine congressman if the election were held today. By contrast, 41% of those surveyed by the Monmouth University Polling Institute said they would support Hunter’s opponent, 29-year-old Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar. Ten percent were undecided.

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Hunter’s lead remains despite the fact that just under 4 in 10 voters believe the five-term incumbent is definitely or probably guilty. Among the district’s voters who currently support Hunter, 21% lean toward thinking he is guilty and 41% say he’s not guilty, according to the survey. Nearly a quarter of potential voters said they were unaware that Hunter had been indicted.

“One in 10 voters in this district think Hunter is probably guilty of campaign fraud, but they are going to vote for him anyway,” said Patrick Murray, director of the nonpartisan Monmouth University Polling Institute.

A federal grand jury indicted Hunter and his wife last month, alleging they funded a lavish lifestyle by illegally using campaign money, then filed false campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission to cover it up. The couple pleaded not guilty.

About 35% of voters said they have a favorable impression of Hunter, 41, compared with 33% who looked on him unfavorably. Just under a third had no opinion of the congressman. While a quarter of voters reported favorable ratings of Campa-Najjar, 60% had no opinion of the challenger, who previously worked in the Obama White House and Labor Department.

Hunter’s lead over Campa-Najjar, which falls outside the poll’s margin of error, demonstrates the difficulty Democrats will have flipping seats in rock-ribbed conservative areas like the 50th Congressional District, where Republicans hold a voter registration advantage of nearly 15 percentage points. Unlike more competitive House districts in California, the 50th District went for President Trump over Hillary Clinton by a near-identical margin in 2016. Hunter previously won reelection by 27 percentage points.

Voter enthusiasm in the district appears to be high: About two-thirds of those surveyed said they were paying at least somewhat close attention to the campaign. Nearly 4 in 5 voters — including similar shares of Republicans and Democrats — said their vote for Congress was tied to their opinions of Trump.

More than half of those surveyed in the 50th District approve of the job Trump is doing, and 42% said that Hunter, an early endorser of Trump in 2016, is giving “the right amount of support” to the president.

The poll showed Hunter with a 58% to 31% lead among white voters without a college degree, a group that broke decisively for Trump two years ago, and even a slight advantage among college-educated whites, who have tended to prefer Democrats in this year’s competitive House races. Campa-Najjar leads by double digits among nonwhite voters, who make up a much smaller percentage of voters in the 50th District and typically turn out in far lower numbers during midterms.

The Monmouth University poll was conducted by telephone from Sept. 22 to 26 and included 401 potential voters who had either cast a ballot in at least one election since 2010 or had registered to vote since January 2016. The margin of error for the sample was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

11:50 a.m. This article was updated throughout with additional details on poll results and comment from Patrick Murray.

This article was originally published at 10:45 a.m.

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