Ammar Campa-Najjar (left) and Darrell Issa are answering for negative ads, appearances in Facebook Live interviews with Defend East County founder. File photos

By Miriam Raftery

As voters begin casting ballots in the 50th Congressional District, last-minute mailers and online ads for Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar and Republican Darrell Issa have gone negative, each tarring the other as unfit for public office with allegations ranging from terrorist ties to criminal actions.

One campaign sent a mailer displaying East County Magazine’s logo without permission; ECM does not endorse candidates and prohibits use of the logo for political purposes.

Both Issa and Campa-Najjar also recently appeared in video interviews with Defend East County. Campa-Najjar drew sharp criticism from progressives and people of color for meeting with what some has characterized as a racist vigilante group, even as Issa denounced Black Lives Matter for “doing damage” to African Americans and referenced “criminal elements” in BLM and Antifa during his video discussion with DEC’s leader.

Issa has also tried to tie Campa-Najjar to terrorism in an ad that claimed Campa-Najjar’s father long had involvement with the Palestine Liberation Organization) PLO.

According to a San Diego Union-Tribune article, Yassir Najjar, the candidate’s father, “publicly advocated for peace” unlike the candidate’s more militant grandfather. Ammar Campa-Najjar was born in La Mesa and has indicated that his father left the family when Ammar was a child; his grandfather died before he was born. He was raised by his mother, a Catholic.

However Issa also faults Campa-Najjar for his involvement in a peace-in-Palestine video that Issa’s characterized as “anti-Israeli.” Campa-Najjar has publicly touted a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict and his endorsements include some local rabbis.

Campa-Najjar’s latest mailer has this headline: “Issa’s troubling timeline of crime and corruption.” It references charges of car theft in the ‘70s and ‘80s, a military demotion and more. On the reverse side, ECM’s logo appears (unauthorized) on the top above a partial quote from a 2019 ECM article that quoted Republican and Democratic Senators who declined to approve Issa’s appointment by President Donald Trump to a trade commission because of concerns over undisclosed content of an FBI background check.

On Facebook, Campa-Najjar wrote: “Ethics matter, especially after losing a congressman in #CA50 to crime,” a reference to ex-Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, who resigned in disgrace after pleading guilty to diverting a quarter-million dollars of campaign donations to personal use.

Campa-Najjar has also criticized Issa for accepting COVID-relief under the PPP program for his business, then loaning his campaign the same amount within three weeks.

Asked about this by ECM, Issa called the claim “despicable.” Issa said he has periodically loaned or given money to his campaign. He said his real estate company was able to retain its six employees, fully pay its rent and avoid layoffs with the loan, for which he did not ask forgiveness.

“We’re going to lose much more than that $150,000,” Issa said of the business impacted by COVID-19. He indicated that he also authorized applying for the PPP loan to “see what the process was like” and whether it was as quick and easy as intended.

Both Campa-Najjar and Issa recently took part in videotaped candidate discussions with a leader of Defend East County, a group started after the La Mesa riot ostensibly to protect businesses, but numerous local people of color have reported receiving threats, racial taunts or violent attacks instigated by some DEC members and racist groups that showed up to stand against protesters alongside the DEC.

“It was disappointing,” San Diego County Democratic Party chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy told NBC7 in an interview. .”We reach out to non-party preference, we reach out to Republicans. But to reach out to white supremacists is the line that we draw in the sand.”

Campa-Najjar latter posted an apology on Facebook for the meeting.

“Despite my best intentions, I messed up,” he wrote on Oct. 11. He claimed he was unaware of the threats of allegation of violence at the time of his interview and also tweeted: “I denounce white supremacy.”

The Democratic nominee also drew criticism from party members for saying he hadn’t yet made up his mind who to support for president in the contentious race between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, who served as vice president to Barack Obama at the time Campa-Najjar served in the U.S. Labor Department during the Obama administration.

Campa-Najjar later said he had voted for Biden.

Campa-Najjar has also criticized Issa for not living in the 50th Congressional District, touting his own East County ties. Issa counters that the district he formerly represented largely overlapped the 50th, though primarily in the northeast portions.

“Am I going to pay attention to East County? That’s my job,” Issa told ECM. “It’s also my job to pay attention to Marines at Miramar even though it’s not in my district,” he added, noting that he’s also worked on border issues with Democratic Congressman Juan Vargas even though the 50th district doesn’t touch the border. “Duncan Hunter Senior would have been the first to say as federal officers, we have obligations beyond our district lines.”

A version of this report first appeared on East County Magazine, a member of the San Diego Online News Association.

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