On Jan. 12, Ammar Campa-Najjar led in the 50th congressional district polls with about 26 percent of the vote. He habitually jokes on the campaign trail that he’s “the only mainstream candidate who can actually vote for himself.” He appears to see a clear path to victory in November with a divided Republican base and no serious Democratic competition except for a real-estate and banking professional, Marisa Calderon. Calderon entered the race late and isn’t a resident in the district.
Despite these seemingly favorable conditions, progressive voters are reconsidering their loyalty to the “Happy Campa” camp. This came after an awkward Jan. 12 town hall event in San Marcos in addition to a bombshell interview that the San Diego Union Tribune published the same day. During each, Campa-Najjar took shockingly right-wing positions on key issues that could alienate progressives.
Campa-Najjar caters to xenophobia
“I voted for him in the last election because it was so important to me that we unseat Hunter,” said Sarah Brown, a voter in Escondido. She says she switched her support after socialist José Cortés entered the race. “I am voting based on my principles and they are much more aligned with José’s. Ammar’s stances on the wall, border security, a war with Iran, and others are what convinced me.”
“I support building the wall in some places where it makes sense,” Campa-Najjar stated when asked about his border policy by the Union Tribune. Additionally, he has called for the use of 5G technology and drones at the border. He also wants to grant additional funds and equipment for border patrol agents and is even in favor of mandating E-Verify for employers. Campa-Najjar has advocated for building a physical barrier such as a fence or wall in some places for years. Though his support for these reactionary proposals is not new, the blunt delivery in the interview is what is raising eyebrows: “I would support building the wall. I would.”
Furthermore, Campa-Najjar can be heard on the campaign trail echoing the same anti-immigrant rhetoric his Republican opponents have been using to score political points in the conservative district. “We have to prevent, you know, drugs and criminals and human trafficking and guns from coming in from our southern border. … I would focus on [deporting] those criminals who are, you know, the rapists, the killers, the drug dealers. … Those tunnels, just blow them up and make sure that the drug dealers and the gun smugglers can’t do that.”
His primary criticism of his Republican opponents is that their border security strategy is not effective and cohesive enough. “All they talk about is wall, wall, wall, and they know in their hearts that that’s not the only thing that’s going to fix it,” Campa-Najjar argued during his Union Tribune interview.
So far, only the Peace and Freedom Party candidate — José Cortés — has suggested decriminalizing immigration, demilitarizing the border, giving immigrants full rights, and ending U.S. military intervention in Latin America as a way to address the root cause of the migrant crisis. Democrat Marisa Calderon identifies as an “immigrant advocate.” However, she has not offered many specifics on her website about her platform regarding immigration.
Condoning war crimes and neoconservative policies
The Union Tribune editorial board also probed Campa-Najjar on his position regarding Eddie Gallagher. Ever since members of Gallagher’s own unit decided to blow the whistle on his behavior — describing him as “evil,” toxic,” and “perfectly okay with killing anybody” according to the New York Times — he has been a polarizing figure in San Diego. He reportedly targeted women and children and boasted that “burqas were flying.” President Trump has described him as a “great fighter” at campaign rallies and has hosted Gallagher and his wife at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
As for Campa-Najjar’s position?
“I think that there was an overstating of what Gallagher did. … Anyone who thinks that war is something that’s black and white, um, I think is kidding themselves. … We’re asking [service members] to go shed some of their humanity to go defend our freedoms,” Campa-Najjar said. “I just don’t know if, um, I could be the kind of person that goes after our military folks for doing the unspeakable, doing things that are better left imagined than described.”
The refusal to condemn blatant war crimes might seem surprising unless one has followed his campaign closely. The militaristic side of his platform was also highlighted during his San Marcos town hall on Jan. 12. There an audience member asked him about escalating tensions with Iran. Campa-Najjar called for a preemptive strike on Iranian military bases and said that the U.S. should push for denuclearization in Iran.
Despite the fact that that Lt. General Qassem Soleimani was part of an official peace delegation for Iran when he was illegally assassinated, Campa-Najjar openly called Soleimani a terrorist and speculated that there was, in fact, evidence he was planning some kind of “imminent attack on Americans.” Where, when, or how this supposedly imminent attack was to be carried out was not specified by Campa-Najjar.
Additionally, he criticized the sanctions announced by Trump as “ineffective.” He argued that the economic warfare tactics there were already in full force. There was no mention of how sanctions harm and kill innocent people. Campa-Najjar’s foreign policy seems to align very closely with the current U.S. State Department.
Campa-Najjar wants to be San Diego’s ‘most conservative congressman’
Even moderate Democrats are finding themselves at odds with some of Campa-Najjar’s positions. San Diego Indivisible, a grassroots political organization affiliated with the Democrats, endorsed Campa-Najjar in both 2018 and 2020. However, they faced dissent from within their own ranks when a critical summary of the Union Tribune interview was posted on Facebook:
“Some of [the interview] might surprise you. … Among his policy positions: not voting for impeachment, building the wall for border security, not judging war criminals. … He sharply criticizes the political left and continues his long-standing opposition to Medicare-for-All and Green New Deal. Is this what it takes for a Democrat to win in CA50?” said the post from an unnamed San Diego Indivisible contributor.
Campa-Najjar pushed back in the comments section, saying “Whoever [wrote this summary] shouldn’t be allowed to speak on behalf of Indivisible … it removes the tone, detail, and nuance that puts these quotes in context.”
“He gave an interview to the Union Tribune and basically was all Trump talking points. He wants to win and will do anything to do it,” said Laila Aziz, a community organizer involved in issues of mass incarceration, police brutality, and racism. “Now no one trusts him.” She also cited previous statements in which Campa-Najjar said gangs are an issue he would like to address in Escondido. “If you are a Democrat and use ‘gangs’ as a platform to uphold systemic racism and institutionalized slavery you will get called out. Gang documentation has zero oversight and is based on the criminalization of youth of color and immigrants.”
Refugee and community organizer Sarah Farouq said: “I came to the U.S. as a result of a destructive war that murdered members of my own family, so when he says things like ‘killing people to defend our freedoms’ he’s perpetuating that imperialist myth and inhumane role of the military in countries like mine abroad. It strikes me that he said that when a good percentage of his district is refugees and immigrants who are here as a result of these gruesome wars.”
“I will be the most conservative congressman in San Diego and I’d make no qualms about that,” Campa-Najjar said in an oft-quoted part of the interview. At various times in his campaign he has referred to himself as a populist and a progressive. This leaves voters to draw their own conclusions about his political allegiances.
José Cortés: the only anti-imperialist candidate
The timing couldn’t be worse for Campa-Najjar, who staked out his interventionist position just days after José Cortés led anti-war ANSWER Coalition rallies and marches in San Diego, attended by hundreds of people.
“We are protesting the recent military escalation by the United States as well as the new sanctions, Cortés told Liberation News. “Make no mistake about it, sanctions are a war crime. This is a form of collective punishment. Sanctions are used to deprive people of food and medicine and they affect the elderly, the sick, and children first.”
The blatant chauvinism and corruption of the Republican Party and lack of progressive Democrats running in the 50th district leaves many voters alienated, with nowhere to turn except independents and third parties. The Green Party, Peace and Freedom Party, and Party for Socialism and Liberation have all endorsed José Cortés for Congress. The popularity of socialism and those who are actually willing to fight for progressive change continues to grow.