Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006 | U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, announced Monday that he will run for president in 2008 in what observers are calling a long-shot bid for his party’s nomination.
Hunter, who is heavily favored to win reelection in California’s 52nd Congressional District next week, said he plans to test the waters for a presidential bid in the coming months. The declaration allows the 13-term congressman to officially begin campaign and fundraising activities for the presidential primary.
“This is going to be a long road, it’s a challenging road, there’s going to be some rough and tumble,” Hunter said, standing on the Broadway Navy Pier with the Midway aircraft carrier in the background. “But I think it’s the right thing to do for our country.”
Political observers immediately doubted whether Hunter stands much of a chance in a field crowded with nationally known Republicans. But it’s the timing of Hunter’s announcement – only eight days before the November mid-term election in which the GOP is in danger of losing control of Congress – and an apparent disconnect between Hunter’s skills as a behind-the-scenes leaders and the demands of the presidency that has them puzzled. And experts in New Hampshire and Iowa, the first two states to hold caucuses in 2008, say the congressman is already late to the presidential scramble.
Hunter said he consulted his father and friends but not the GOP leadership before making his decision, which came as a surprise to many in his own party.
“I guess it’s one indication of how wide open the race must be on the Republican side,” said Gary Jacobson, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. Jacobson said Hunters decision is neatly timed before the elections so that “if Republicans do lose control of the House he won’t look like he’s bailing out.”
Hunter won his seat in the 52nd District in 1980, when he upset Democratic incumbent Lionel Van Deerlin. Due to gerrymandering that’s created a sizable Republican registration advantage in the district, Hunter, a former defense attorney and Vietnam veteran, hasn’t faced a significant challenge since.
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee since 2003, Hunter has earned a reputation as a strong-willed conservative. Known for taking staunchly conservative positions on national defense and border security, including the construction of a controversial triple fence along a San Diego portion of the U.S.-Mexican border, Hunter promised to highlight those subjects in his presidential campaign.
Jacobsen said Hunter is “almost unknown outside of his district or the world outside of military affairs in congress” and the odds that he will succeed in securing the Republican presidential nomination are long at best.
Hunter is likely to contend with nationally recognized Republicans like Arizona Sen. John McCain, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the party’s support.
While Hunter may appeal to a more conservative wing of the party than his competition, some of his hard-line stances could prove a liability if the current political climate persists.
“If he does run then he will probably be the last and most staunch defender of President Bush’s foreign policy and that, even for a Republican, will be a tough road to hoe unless things improve in Iraq over the next two years,” Jacobson said.
For Sam Popkin a professor of political science at the University of California San Diego, the idea of Hunter as a presidential candidate just doesn’t add up.
Popkin credits Hunter for being tough, smart and “very, very competent at the legislative game,” but said the skills he’s honed during his more than two decades in Congress don’t translate to the Oval Office.
“This is like a quarterback running for hockey coach,” Popkin said. “Many high powered legislators look around and say ‘I’m smarter than the boob in the White House or in their cabinet and I should have their job.’ But they often don’t realize the skills that they don’t have. … He’s never spent the time being a communicator.”
Although Hunter is an expert on defense appropriations and some border issues, Popkin said he lacks the expertise in the wide array of subjects that presidential hopefuls are expected to master.
Hunter’s limitations as a candidate and the timing of his announcement have Popkin wondering what’s really motivating the congressman.
“This is a guy who really knows how to plan things out and this doesn’t feel planned,” Popkin said. “He’s too savvy to be playing Don Quixote. It doesn’t feel like a real campaign.”
At Monday’s press conference, Hunter said he plans to spend the next week touring the country helping Republican campaigns ahead of the Nov. 7 election. He’ll have until the spring of next year to prove that he can raise enough money and organize an effective campaign before making a decision to bow out or continue his presidential bid.
“If he can’t mobilize some support financial and otherwise it will be over fairly quickly,” Jacobson said.
Hunter will be one of many candidates vying for the electorate’s attention in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a Republican primary in early 2008, and he’ll have to work hard to stand out. Despite his powerful congressional position and local recognition, Hunter isn’t well known to the rest of the nation.
“I think very few people in New Hampshire know Representative Hunter,” said Mark Wrighton, as associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.
Hunter also has his work cut out for him in Iowa.
“He’s coming in late and he’s coming in not as a known quantity so it really is a problem for him,” said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Iowa.
Squire said a host of Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls started working the Iowa political machine shortly after the 2004 election. Several have already put campaign organizations together and snapped up the most talented staff, he said.
Presidential candidates typically come from the ranks of governors and senators, Wrighton said. He points out that the last sitting member of the House to become president was James Garfield in 1880.
While history may be against Hunter, Jacobson said the congressman may not walk away empty handed.
“He’s smart enough to know that he’s a long shot, but the world offers up lots of surprises,” Jacobson said. “There’s always the vice presidency for someone who runs a respectable race.”