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Who is Ammar Campa-Najjar, the man trying to take down the vaping congressman?
There’s a newcomer on the scene in California.
With days to go before the midterm elections, the Democratic Party is scrambling to make sure that their hopes for a Blue Wave become a reality. And yet, some young progressive candidates like Ammar Campa-Najjar are still flying under the radar.
As a Democratic candidate in California’s 50th Campa-Najjar hasn’t gotten much national attention is the Democratic candidate in California’s 50th District. The 29-year-old with a Palestinian and Mexican background looks like just the kind of person that the Democratic Party would like to see as their future.
Who is Ammar Campa-Najjar?
His personal story, one that involves being raised by a working-class single mother and taking a job as a janitor during his teenage years to help make ends meet, resonates with the people of his district and could resonate on a national level.
Campa-Najjar faces an uphill battle for the seat, as the district, comprised of suburbs and rural areas east of San Diego, is one of the few red districts in California. With veterans comprising 10 percent of the population in the 50th, and the proximity of Camp Pendleton, a military background is traditionally far higher prized there than a diverse background.
There is more room for optimism in this race than usual because his opponent, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is under federal indictment for allegedly spending $250,000 of campaign cash on personal expenses. Hunter was removed from leadership roles in the House for his misdeeds, and he has seen his poll numbers slide as the news of his political misdeeds continues to make headlines.
Endorsed by Our Revolution and The California Democratic Party (notably more progressive than the national body), Campa-Najjar is running a campaign similar to Beto O’Rourke: progressive in some spots, but with an eye towards the realities of his district where only 27 percent of voters are registered Democrats. The slogan that leads his website, “Country Over Party” speaks directly to the realities of his districts’ voters.
Though a number of candidates across the country are trying to blend red voters and blue principals, the strategy varies greatly district to district. A close look at Campa-Najja’s positions say just as much about the district as they do about the hopeful young candidate.
Campa-Najjar straddles a familiar line for many Democrats this election cycle when it comes to healthcare: he is for “universal healthcare” but does not mention “Medicare for All” on his campaign website.
Some media outlets have reported that he supports Medicare for All, but he told Rolling Stone, “When I talk to about Medicare for All, I want to see it in a revenue-neutral fashion. If we can’t do it that way then I don’t want it.”
However, he does come close to supporting the policy when he says, “TRICARE, the military’s healthcare program, and Medicare have both proven to provide more affordable care than the private insurance system does. We should learn from these models and expand them for everyone.”
When Campa-Najjar speaks to short-term healthcare goals, he speaks with a bit more clarity. He promises to lower prescription drug costs, work for a public option, and allow older Americans to buy into Medicare early. He also pledges to fight any cuts to the ACA if elected.
The endorsement of the progressive National Nurses Union signals that even if he isn’t as progressive as some might like, he is good enough for even the left-most base of the Democratic electorate.
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Interestingly for a male candidate in a predominately conservative district, Campa-Najjar leads off the issues section of his website with a section on women’s rights.
The Women’s March saw huge turnout in Los Angeles and San Diego, and Campa-Najjar is clearly betting that Republican women can be swayed away from Trump’s party after the various accusations that have been leveled at himself, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and various other Republicans.
Despite his district’s conservative bent, he uses phrases like “rape culture” and “objectified and sexualized” in his writing on the issue, a signal that he understands that his base is informed and female.
He backs up his pro-woman rhetoric with policy proposals like equal pay, legislation against domestic violence, and strengthening Title IX. Equal pay is such a high priority for him that he mentions it in most interviews and on various sections of his website.
Jobs and the economy
Of his major policy proposals, Campa-Najjar’s “Jobs” priorities are the most expansive. His district has an unemployment rate of eight percent and income inequality is a real problem there. He has developed a number of takes on the issue, using both moderate and progressive frameworks to help find relief for his prospective constituents.
Campa-Najjar is with the more progressive, Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party on some economic positions. He is in favor of expanding and strengthening unions and he has supported protectionist stances backed by organized labor, such as opposing TPP and tweaking NAFTA to support jobs domestically. He also calls out “corporate welfare” in his campaign literature.
However, he has some positions that are more similar to Beto O’Rourke or Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Penn.) than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He believes in “investing in small business” which usually means some kind of tax break. He also believes in taking advantage of tax exemptions offered to Native American reservations and the lower costs of doing business in rural areas to lure businesses to the region.
Though he is of Mexican and Palestinian heritage, Campa-Najjar is a moderate on immigration. Rather than supporting a more progressive position like Abolish ICE, he focuses on short-term bipartisan solutions. Like most Democrats, he supports the DREAM Act, but like most moderates, he focuses on the economic benefits of the bill when touting it.
Even conservative areas of California tend to be sympathetic towards preserving the environment.
Campa-Najjar takes advantage of that to lay out a progressive vision for the environment that includes ending fossil fuel subsidies, redirecting Department of Energy research away from “half measures” and towards renewable energy and ending offshore drilling in federal waters.
Campa-Najjar also goes fairly deep into region-specific environmental concerns while also thinking globally: He has concrete plans for urban development, public transit, and water rights that could set Southern California up for a green future.
As he is running in a suburban and rural district, it makes sense that Campa-Najjar would have a comprehensive education policy. He has a number of priorities on education that, as with his other major policy planks, borrow from both progressive and moderate orthodoxy.
Universal preschool is one of his signature policies. This is a program that has gained traction in cities but will be something of a test case for less urban areas. He also wants to increase funding for community college and look towards reducing their cost. Campa-Najjar is also a vocal supporter of teachers unions.
One place where Campa-Najjar is out of step with the progressive position is charter schools. He is in favor of regulating them while more progressive candidates campaign on their elimination, as they are generally opposed by teacher’s unions. Though he supports public schools, there are Democrats who have taken a more bold stand on the issue.
Similarly, Campa-Najjar stops short of free public college by offering a number of student loan reform programs and only going as far as claiming he wants to “make tuition-free college possible without raising middle-class taxes.”
He takes a similarly moderate position on student loan debt, advocating student debt forgiveness, but only in exchange for public service.
And on Tuesday, he’ll find out if that can take down Duncan Hunter.
Brenden Gallagher is a politics reporter and cultural commentator. His work has been published by Motherboard, Complex, and VH1. He’s the co-founder of Beer Money Films, an indie production company. Based in Los Angeles, he works in television drama as a writers assistant.