Christian Volunteers Powered Hunter's First Bid Duncan Hunter's first run for Congress looked hopeless at first. He was a Republican running against an entrenched incumbent in a Democratic district. But Hunter had a secret weapon: an army of conservative Christians who worked tirelessly to help him win.

Christian Volunteers Powered Hunter's First Bid

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez extends his revolution to the movies.

CHADWICK: First, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter is one of the longest of long shots running for president, but he has won before when people thought he wouldn't, as with his first campaign for Congress 27 years ago in San Diego.

NPR's Scott Horsley has the latest in our series of reports on First Campaigns.

SCOTT HORSLEY: In 1980, Duncan Hunter was a Vietnam veteran with a storefront law practice. His father, a lifelong Republican, encouraged Hunter to run for Congress in a Democratic district. Hunter remembers his dad saying the issues would be defense and jobs, which in San Diego at the time amounted to the same thing.

Representative DUNCAN HUNTER (Republican, California; Presidential Candidate): My mom had a - she designed our billboards, which had my picture, and we put those in the locations near the defense industry, near the shipyards, and the aerospace plants in San Diego.

HORSLEY: No one gave Hunter much of a chance. Least of all, Lionel Van Deerlin, the Democrat who'd held the seat for 18 years. Van Deerlin was used to being reelected with comfortable margins. And he freely admits, he was overconfident.

Mr. LIONEL VAN DEERLIN (Former Democratic Representative, California): I hope fatheaded isn't the right term, but you do acquire confidence that people know who you are and are not disgusted with you. We discovered shortly before the election what was happening, but by that time, it was too late.

HORSLEY: What was happening in San Diego and across the country that year was a quiet mobilization of Christian conservatives. A San Diego pastor named Tim LaHaye, best known now as the author of the "Left Behind" books series, had just started Californians for Biblical Morality to get conservative churchgoers more involved in politics.

Pastor Jim Baize of San Diego's Midway Baptist Church was among those who heard the call.

Pastor JIM BAIZE (Midway Baptist Church, San Diego, California): About same time, Jerry Falwell came on the scene with the moral majority. I mean, his reasoning was, if Christians withdraw from the process, we're just abandoning our rights and our privilege in a republic form of government.

HORSLEY: Baize was introduced to Hunter as a candidate who shared his values against abortion, in favor of Christian schools, and supportive of the military. So Baize and his Christian foot soldiers went to work.

Pastor BAIZE: We canvassed areas and walked precincts. We had a big precinct map, just like any of the parties do - divided it up and said, you know, okay, your team take this group, your team take that group. And let people know there's someone who reflects our values. If these are your values, you may want to vote for him.

HORSLEY: Baize and his followers distributed hundreds of thousands of pro-Hunter flyers, saving the candidate a bundle on direct mailing costs. When the ballots were counted on election night, Hunter had pulled off a stunning upset, winning by nearly 10,000 votes.

Political scientist Carl Luna notes Hunter's was one 34 House seats the Republicans picked up that year.

Professor CARL LUNA (Political Science, San Diego Mesa College): The proverbial right place at the right time. It was the Reagan Revolution, and Reagan would have coattails to bring some people into the Senate and some people into the House, and Hunter got caught up in that.

HORSLEY: Hunter's basic views haven't changed much over the last quarter-century. And thanks to redistricting, he no longer has to worry about serious Democratic opposition. He's still anti-abortion, pro-Christian, and a hawk on defense. Throughout his congressional career, defense contractors and their employees have been his biggest contributors. And former Congressman Van Deerlin says Hunter has returned the favor.

Mr. DEERLIN: I don't say this in an unfriendly way. He is for anything that the Pentagon wants and lots more besides.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: Pastor Jim Baize likes the fact that Hunter hasn't changed, unlike so many politicians, he says, who seem to get more politically correct when they get to Washington. Baize's church still helps to register voters, but no longer wields the kind of political muscle it did in 1980. Baize is backing Hunter's White House bid, but admits the odds seem even longer this time than they did in that first campaign.

Pastor BAIZE: It was kind of like he was ignored, but he had the opportunity to go around and shake hands and meet people. And how do you that on a national level? You know, I mean, I pray for him and I pray for God's will to be done. And I really hope - I'll tell you what, he would be one fantastic president.

HORSLEY: Whatever happens in the presidential race, Hunter has promised to give up his House seat. His son, a Marine reservist now serving in Afghanistan, hopes to replace him.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Dear listeners, get ready for the voting to come. Read up on Duncan Hunter's political prospects as presidential candidate, and hear more stories in our series on the presidential candidate's First Campaigns at

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