Campaigning from the Front Lines

Duncan D. Hunter never thought he would follow in his father (presidential candidate Duncan Hunter)’s political footsteps. He hadn’t planned on joining the Marines either. But 9/11 changed America and Hunter’s life dramatically.

Today, he is serving his third combat tour — the first two in Iraq — in Afghanistan. And his wife is campaigning as his surrogate for San Diego, California’s 52nd Congressional District, the seat Hunter’s father now holds, including the cities of Alpine and La Mesa.

Hunter’s wife Margaret stepped in to carry the campaign on after he was called from the reserves to go overseas. Now that her Marine husband has been gone for three months, Mrs. Hunter takes on the main fundraising and campaigning responsibilities with three young children in tow. Hunter, who decided on a Congressional run before the deployment, is scheduled to return in November.

In a phone interview, Mrs. Hunter told me that 9/11 changed the family’s perspective on many things. “A lot decisions still up in the air for us,” but 9-11, “made a lot of those for us,” she said. “One of which was that he would in fact go and serve his country on a great level and do all he could to help the US fight terrorism.”

The Department of Defense allows those in the reserves to campaign for political office as long as they are gone no longer than 9 months. According to DOD regulations, Hunter is not allowed to communicate with voters or participate in the campaign from abroad.

“When we first started, I had big plans having him video blogging from Afghanistan but those were all shot down,” said David Gilliard, a campaign spokesman. “Fortunately, he had a few weeks after he was called up to put some things in motion — to give us his positions and make some initial fundraising and endorsement calls before he left.”

Hunter will be back in time for campaigning deeper into the ’08 season but now — lift off time — can be the most demanding because of fundraising demands. Margaret Hunter handles these pressures confidently, saying the community has given them a “great response considering it’s a bit early in the game” and the district has been “absolutely wonderful” because “they…really look at what you’re doing for your country and how you’re involved…what your priorities are.”

Gilliard said Mrs. Hunter has done an “outstanding job of representing [Duncan]” and that Hunter will have a “good amount” of money to start working with when he returns. Thanks to Margaret and other volunteers — including several members of Congress such as Rep. Ed Royce (R.-Calif.) and the elder Rep. Hunter, fundraising has been successful so far. Rep. Trent Franks (R.-Ariz.) and Rep. Jim Saxton (R.-N.J.) both supported the campaign by calling in to fundraisers.

Mrs. Hunter said Hunter is “a patriot” whose main issues include national security, border security and taking care of military families in terms of decent pay and benefits. A strong family bond helps the Mrs. Hunter endure her husband’s absence and represent him personally and professionally.

“My kids are my comfort, at the end of the day, they are who I turn to,” she said. “It is a family effort. [It] always has been with the Hunters.”

While a deployed candidate creates unique challenges, it also provides the Hunters with an unquestionable platform of loyalty. Politicians are known for saying a lot but not always getting things done. Hunter’s active participation in the military shows his dedication. Mrs. Hunter was quick to point out that Hunter’s deployment was in no way a campaign strategy, though.

“When he was reactivated, he would not have it any other way — there was no question that he would of course go back into active duty,” she said. “It just happens to be at the same time that we are running this campaign but yet, a lot of people who are supportive do see that was a really amazing thing, the fact that we he is for the third time, serving.”

Gilliard and Mrs. Hunter were confident in Hunter’s ability to win the election when the time comes. Gilliard said other names have been “batted about,” but in the end they aren’t likely strong enough.

“Voters and supporters and Republican volunteers are very proud that he’s over there in Afghanistan,” said Gilliard. “The response has been very positive…very supportive of what we’re trying to do to protect America…very proud of one of their own.”