Democrats Field Navy Vet to Run for Hunter’s San Diego Seat
Cq Today (2007-09-10) Rachel Kapochunas
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Republican candidates have been flocking to run for California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter’s seat in the 52nd district, but this weekend, Democrats gained a challenger who believes he can run a competitive race in the GOP-leaning district: retired Navy commander Mike Lumpkin
Lumpkin announced his candidacy Saturday at a convention held by the San Diego County Democrats, a group Lumpkin said asked him to consider the bid several months ago for the seat Hunter will vacate in order to focus on his longshot bid for the presidency.
“Our nation faces serious challenges. Now, more than ever, the people of California’s 52nd Congressional District deserve an experienced leader to represent them,” Lumpkin said at the event. “A congressional seat is too important to pass from father to son as a birthright because of name recognition, when America’s future is at stake.”
Hunter’s son, Marine Captain Duncan D. Hunter, is one of the Republicans vying for his father’s seat and while legacy candidates are not uncommon in Congress, they often draw criticism for using the advantages of name recognition and other benefits that an incumbent parent can bestow to crowd out rivals.
Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis overcame those criticisms last fall and easily clinched a win to succeed his father, Michael Bilirakis, in Florida’s 9th District. He joined eight current members of the House who directly succeeded a parent.
But Lumpkin told CQPolitics.com on Monday that he believes district voters hold “real concerns” about family succession in the 52nd.
“If you look at the number of people in the GOP who backed the son prior to the other challengers getting a fair shake in the primary, you just have to scratch your head and wonder, ‘Is this how our nation was designed to function?’” Lumpkin asked.
At least three Republicans are in the race for the open seat in addition to Hunter: Santee City Councilman Brian W. Jones; small businessman Kenneth W. King; and president of the San Diego County Board of Education Robert J. Watkins.
Hunter is a political novice, but his family connection and military background have boosted his profile to such a degree that he already claims to have received endorsements from nearly 60 current members of Congress.
Hunter is currently serving in Afghanistan and is due to complete his tour in December 2007. In Hunter’s absence, his wife, Margaret, and current members of Congress are representing the candidate at meetings and fundraising events.
Military credentials can be a significant advantage in the San Diego district where many residents are in the military or work in the defense industry.
Lumpkin believes his background as a Navy SEAL commander as well as his most recent job in Washington, D.C. serving as a congressional liaison for the U.S. Special Operations Command Office of Legislative Affairs will serve him well as representative of the district but said being a longtime resident of San Diego also makes him an ideal candidate.
Lumpkin understands the challenges Democrats face in the GOP-leaning district but said his commitment to fiscal responsibility and opposition to government intrusion are beliefs that will play out well in the 52nd. In addition, said Lumpkin, he believes he will be competing in a favorable national political environment.
“A lot of people in the Republican party are starting to think it’s not working so well for them, so I’m going to provide them an option,” Lumpkin said.
Yet the Republicans remain highly favored to hold the seat — 61 percent of residents supported President Bush for re-election in 2004 — and the conservative demographics are likely to attract additional Republican candidates. Lumpkin also expects competition on the Democratic side for the open seat.
Last fall, Congressman Hunter was chairman of the Armed Services committee and was headed for an easy re-election contest when he announced plans in October to establish an exploratory committee for a presidential bid. He was easily re-elected to a 14th term the following month and made his presidential campaign official in January. Hunter currently serves as the top Republican on Armed Services now that Democrats hold a majority in the House.