Friday, May 9, 2008
In the fall of 1980, then Democratic Congressman Lionel Van Deerlin , who had represented a largely Democratic congressional district for 18 years, was in the KPBS studio facing his Republican challenger in a televised debate. I was the producer and moderator. Van had good-naturedly agreed to the encounter as he had many times before, although he complained to me this time that the program would be a waste of time since his re-election seemed assured. He had nine successful campaigns as evidence. Besides, he was running against a young and unknown political novice, Republican lawyer, Duncan Hunter, 32.
So Congressman Van Deerlin casually relaxed on the TV set. His effort was bemused and minimal while long-shot Hunter sat alert and at attention during the entire debate, attacked the incumbent as weak on defense, and apparently won over the audience. A few weeks later, he won the election. (Afterwards, the new congressman told me he felt that TV appearance was a turning point. The former congressman told me the same thing.)
Now here we are 28 years later. The congressional district has a new number, new boundaries, and the 2-to-1 Democratic majority has morphed into a strong Republican voter registration. Hunter was assigned to the Armed Forces Committee and eventually became its chair, and became an avid supporter of the war in Iraq. Last year, he decided to run for president , and shortly thereafter announced that he would not seek re-election to the House of Representatives, but that his son will run to replace him.