As the line of Republican candidates running for the White House in 2008 begins to form, there is one candidate making preparations to run whose name voters outside of San Diego and Washington will be hard-pressed to recognize, but that could change in time. I’m speaking of the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, California Rep. Duncan Hunter.
It is easy to dismiss Mr. Hunter’s chances. After all, not since James Garfield in 1880 has a sitting member of Congress been elected to the White House, and then of course, there’s that whole name recognition thing. However, there is something interesting about Mr. Hunter that should not be overlooked. He is a social conservative in what is expected to shape up as a socially moderate Republican field. Historically, social conservatives have done very well with voters in early primary states such as Iowa and South Carolina. (Mr. Hunter introduced H.R. 552 the Right to Life Act, which proposes to “implement equal protection for the right to life of each born and preborn human person.”). He is further to the right on social issues than either John McCain, Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney.
A Vietnam veteran, Mr. Hunter was first elected to Congress in 1980, when he won in a long-shot bid over 18-year Democratic incumbent Lionel Van Deerlin. When asked why he is up to the challenge of a presidential run Mr. Hunter told me, “because I believe national security and a strong military are more important issues today than ever before. The Iranians and North Koreans are acquiring more advanced weapons systems, China is an emerging superpower and, we are living in an increasingly dangerous world. America is headed in to a new era, an era of terrorists with high technology. My message will be one of ‘peace through strength.’ I encourage voters to examine my record and consider my experience as chair of Armed Services and my work on national security issues.”
On Iraq, Mr. Hunter points to a pattern he says America has followed for the past 60 years, “My campaign message on Iraq will consist of a three-step process: Establish a free government, which we’ve done, establish a military that will protect that government, and then leave Iraq.”
Regarding Iraq, Mr. Hunter provided me with a letter he recently wrote to President Bush urging the president “to accelerate the process of deploying Iraqi forces to security environments that force them to engage in difficult military operations. Such operations will allow the forces to become battle-hardened … as the battle in Iraq has intensified, so has the need to send Iraqi battalions into the heart of battle.”
On the issues of border security and illegal immigration, Mr. Hunter has been a vocal critic and an advocate of tougher illegal immigration laws. “I don’t look at the border as an immigration issue, I look at it as a national security issue. After we built the border fence along the San Diego-Tijuana region, smuggling and drugs were reduced in that area by 90 percent. The president just signed the 700-mile border fence bill, which I wrote on the House side. We simply have to have better border security.”
Mr. Hunter expects to formally announce his candidacy sometime after the first of the year. History suggests that voters in early primary states will recognize and embrace a message of peace through strength, conservative social values and conservative illegal immigration policy. Now Duncan Hunter is hoping they recognize his name.
Rick Amato is a radio talk-show host and political commentator.