Military Call Disrupts Hunters' House Plans

The son of Rep. Duncan Hunter hopes to replace his father in the House — but first there's the matter of military service. Duncan Duane Hunter is a Marine reservist who just received orders for a third deployment. His father, a Republican from San Diego, is leaving Congress to run for president.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Here in California, Duncan Duane Hunter had planned to spend this month campaigning hard in San Diego for the congressional seat his father has held since 1981. But the Marines had other ideas. Hunter is a Marine reservist, and he's being called up for a seven-month deployment.

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, that means the candidate will be running his campaign from Iraq or Afghanistan.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Duncan Hunter's platform for Congress sounds a lot like the one that's kept his father and namesake in office, representing San Diego for the last 26 years. He wants a strong military, low taxes and a fence through the desert designed to thwart illegal immigration.

The younger Hunter says he doesn't have any political disagreements with his father, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. If anything, he takes an even harder line than his dad in his commitment to the war in Iraq.

DUNCAN DUANE HUNTER: I think the gloves should have been taken off a long time ago. If we're going to fight a war, we need to fight a war with every single resource that we have, which I don't think that we're doing right now.

HORSLEY: No one can say Hunter hasn't done his part. The 30-year-old Marine has already served two tours in Iraq, including one as an artillery officer during the first battle for Fallujah. It was during that deployment in 2004, Hunter says, that he began to think of following in his father's political footsteps.

Young Duncan, who was just three years old when his father was first elected to Congress, says it wasn't his first choice.

DUANE HUNTER: I didn't like politics growing up because that's - we were in a political family. You know, people can write whatever they want to write about you. My mom always had a hard time with that, and my wife also. But I decided while serving to try to keep on serving in a different capacity.

HORSLEY: After leaving the Marine Corps in 2005, Hunter spent time in Idaho where he ran a construction company. He still drives a pickup truck with Idaho plates. But with the elder Duncan Hunter now waging a long shot bid for president, young Hunter decided the time was right to return to San Diego and campaign for his father's House seat.

He'd just moved back when he got a notice from the Marine Corps. He was being recalled to active duty.

DUANE HUNTER: My mom got this FedEx and called me up crying saying, your dad's running for president, you're running for Congress, your brother is going to join the Army, and you're going back to Iraq or Afghanistan. She said it was pretty hard for her to handle.

HORSLEY: Hunter says the surprise activation is disruptive to both his family life and his political campaign, but adds that's no different than what hundreds of other Marine reservists are now experiencing.

He expects to report to Camp Pendleton in San Diego for a month or two of training, followed by seven months of something artillery-related in Iraq or Afghanistan. In the meantime, it will be up to friends and relatives to carry on with his campaign.

DUANE HUNTER: It affects it in that I'm not going to be here. I think people like to see whoever they're planning on voting for. I'm going to have friends, supporters and family helping me out here.

HORSLEY: The primary campaign for this safe Republican seat is expected to be hard fought. And while Hunter's name and family connections give him a leg up, other GOP candidates are unlikely to cede the contest.

Political analyst Carl Luna at San Diego's Mesa College says Hunter's unexpected deployment could turn out to work in his favor.

CARL LUNA: Because he's overseas, you can't really question him much. And who wants to question the integrity or the ideas of a serviceman who's in combat. It's like wearing a Kevlar voter-protection vest.

HORSLEY: Hunter says he hasn't given much thought to the politics of his deployment. But if he wanted to get out of campaigning, he says, he could think of easier ways.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

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