Cover Story

Hunting for votes

"Hunting for votes" Continued...

Issue: "Barrier riffs," Feb. 10, 2007

While checking road signs, Hunter talked about serving on the House Armed Services Committee, which he chaired for four years until Democrats took the House this year. An ardent supporter of the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq, Hunter has helped bolster military pay, size, and firepower during his tenure on the committee.

The congressman is also strongly pro-life: He voted against federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research and recently proposed legislation that acknowledges the personhood of an unborn child.

Hunter says his pro-life convictions grow out of his religious convictions. A Southern Baptist, Hunter says faith and government are intertwined: "Americans get their laws from principles, and they get their principles from God. . . . When those two coincide that's the best form of government you can have."

Last year, Hunter helped save the 43-foot cross atop the Mt. Soledad war monument in San Diego by introducing legislation in the House that enabled the city to transfer the ground directly under the cross to the ownership of the federal government, avoiding the ACLU's legal challenges to the city.

But while Hunter is socially conservative, not all his policies gel with the GOP. He vigorously opposes current free trade agreements, saying they are not fair to the United States and siphon away jobs from Americans. He voted against NAFTA and similar agreements. "I'm not against trade," he said. "I'm just for smart trade."

When asked about compassionate conservatism and the government's role in helping the poor, Hunter said the government should help people help themselves, and he circled back to his fair trade ideas: Fairer trade means more jobs for people in need.

Hunter says he isn't worried about something he'll need for his presidential campaign: lots of money. Some election watchers estimate candidates will need at least $100 million by the end of the year to compete in the primaries. Hunter, who raised about $1 million in the last election cycle, says he doesn't think he needs that much: "I don't need image consultants and I don't need pollsters telling me what my positions should be. . . . I know what I stand for."

Hunter dismisses criticism leveled by his Democratic opponent in the last election about contributions he received in the past from Brent Wilkes, a contractor connected to former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.). Cunningham, a long-time friend to Hunter, is now serving an eight-year prison sentence for accepting more than $2 million in bribes. Hunter says he returned all the money Wilkes contributed over the past 20 years, adding that Cunningham's fall was "one of the great tragedies I've seen in my life."

The congressman says he has thought about running for the presidency for a long time, and that he's in the race to win. But whatever the outcome, he says: "I'm in the process of advancing ideas. . . . I think that's what all the candidates are doing."

After a seafood lunch near the shore, Hunter and Tyler planned to squeeze in nine holes of golf, courtesy of a Democratic state senator who owns a local country club. Despite their packed schedule, Hunter was optimistic: "There's plenty of time."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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