A candidate for the US Congress in the state of California is hoping to become its first Latino-Arab American member by capturing a district that has voted Republican for the past 30 years.
Ammar Campa-Najjar, a 29–year–old former field campaign director for President Barack Obama, White House staffer and a labour department official, said he wants to bring positive change to California’s demographically changing 50th district.
Campa-Najjar, who is of mixed Palestinian and Mexican heritage, has promised voters to work on rebuilding jobs for the middle class instead of the wall that President Donald Trump intends to build on the Mexican border.
He has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party to stand against the Republican incumbent, Duncan D Hunter.
He said his campaign is focused on helping the people of his district improve their living conditions and rebuild the middle class neglected by Hunter.
Congressional District 50 is located on the southern tip of California close to the Mexican border and includes parts of San Diego county.
Campa-Najjar does not shy away from either his Palestinian or Mexican heritage. However, he insisted he is an “American first and foremost”.
He told Al Jazeera he is proud of being the son of a hard-working Mexican mother, who struggled to raise him and his brother, and a Palestinian father who strived to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis in the 1990s.
An Israeli newspaper reported that Campa-Najjar’s grandfather was a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization and was assassinated by an Israeli hit squad in 1973 after being accused of being a “terrorist” by Israel. Israel considered all members of the PLO to be “terrorists” before it recognised it as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and made the Oslo peace agreement with it in 1993.
He told Al Jazeera he is proud of his background as a Palestinian, saying he “supports peace and reconciliation between Palestinian and Israelis”.
“The local Jewish community in the San Diego area came out and publicly defended me as an American who has nothing to do with the past,” he said. “The Middle Eastern community in the area also rallied around me and supported my campaign for Congress.”
The district is about 35 percent Latino and 15 percent of Middle Eastern descent.
Campa-Najjar said he could not change the past, but unlike others, he can use his family’s history and understanding of the conflict in the Middle East and turn into something positive.
“Our past is not our present or our future, and this campaign is not about my family’s past, rather about every family right in this district,” he said.
“I am committed to work on peace in the Middle East because I lived there during the conflict and witnessed the horrors and destruction it brings,” said Campa-Najjar.
“The Trump travel ban is both unconstitutional and immoral because of its basis in Islamophobia. Despite the administration’s changing the letter of the law, it’s the spirit of the law and original intent to ban all Muslims that makes it a violation of constitutional law.”
The US should focus on rebuilding its infrastructure and battered communities instead of waging wars abroad, Campa-Najjar said.
As someone who opposes Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border, he urged the president in a video published on his campaign website and Twitter account to reconsider his plans, arguing about 40 percent of illegal immigration in the US actually comes from people who overstayed their visas.
He argued against building the wall because the San Diego area already has a 30km-long barrier that has reduced illegal crossings and arrests by 95 percent, according to available data.
“I support securing our border by investing in more surveillance and monitoring. But do we really need to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on a wall?” he said in the video.
Campa-Najjar said his opponent voted for Trump’s tax plan last year, which will hurt California residents. He said under the new tax plan, Californians will be doubled taxed this year.
On healthcare, he said he supports fixing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as it has provided millions of uninsured Americans needed health insurance, including 46,000 residents in his district.
“Congress must fix Obamacare, not undermine it,” he said.
Beni Martinez, a Mexican immigrant and resident of Escondido city, which is located in the district, told Al Jazeera he supports Campa-Najjar’s candidacy for Congress because he understands immigrants.
“This is the first time I met a candidate who actually listens to the voters and always asks them about their concerns and issues, not telling them what he wants,” he said.
Hunter, Campa-Najjar’s rival, is currently embroiled in a Department of Justice investigation of allegations he used tens of thousands of dollars from his campaign for personal use.
Hunter’s lawyers said in a statement “to the extent any mistakes were made they were strictly inadvertent and unintentional”.
Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @Ali_reports