Note: This is part of a series of articles about candidates for local office. Candidates who would like to be interviewed are invited to contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I got out of politics and I thought I’d enjoy my real estate business very well and making good money, but things have changed in the last few months on the national level and also on the local level,” says former Escondido Mayor Sam Abed by way of introducing why he decided to run for the 50th Congressional seat now held by Republican Duncan Hunter Jr.
The mayor of the largest city in the 50th District was defeated for a third term last November in an election where his opponent won by a whisker (The final vote was 21,183-19,639 0r 51.89% to 48.11%) and which, to a degree, owes its result to Duncan Hunter’s legal problems. Abed points out that the badly weakened Hunter was so wounded by the federal charges of embezzling his own campaign funds for personal expenditures that local Democrats smelled blood. They mounted a no holds barred, all hands on deck effort to unseat him with Democratic challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar. That talented, charismatic young politician was buoyed by a legion of enthusiastic volunteers who hit the streets with a very strong ground game that almost swamped Hunter. That wave did overwhelm many other right wing candidates in North County, including Abed.
Abed attributes his defeat to that effort, and to the dexterious employment of ballot harvesting statewide. Two weeks after election day—after most of the massive number of provisional ballots and absentee ballots that swamped registrar of voters offices all across the state had been counted—the GOP’s political landscape in the Golden State looked like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
What has changed since the election, says Abed, is the rise of the radical element of the Democratic party. “The presidential candidates on the Democratic side basically want to change America into a socialist country,” he says. “They are very clear about that. They want open borders. They want to give money to illegals. They put the interests of the illegal immigrants over the interests of the citizens.
“It’s crazy!” he says. “This is not the America I immigrated to thirty-two years ago. On the local level, with Duncan Hunter, I supported Duncan, and I don’t have a problem with his policies. But the corruption level is a problem. I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he was indicted but now, the representation of the 50th District has been compromised. Because he is not on any of the committees in Congress and now the establishment, the leadership of the Republican party in Washington want him out. It’s not going to work out, no matter what the outcome [of the trial.] You just can’t spend a hundred thousand dollars of campaign money on personal things. It can’t be done!”
He adds, “He has violated the public trust and can no longer represent the 50th District! He is in a compromised position and that’s why I was being urged by some many leaders, by so many people, even by some people in Washington, to run for that district.”
The former mayor believes he can run on his own record. “I am in a very good position to win this district and to represent its 750,000 people. I am a two-term mayor of the largest city in the 50th District. I have great accomplishments. I perfectly fit with the constituents of the 50th District,” says Abed. “I have the experience, I have the leadership, and the integrity. With my accomplishments that would make me the perfect fit for this district.”
Abed declared his candidacy just over a week ago, so his campaign hasn’t completely gelled. But his goals have. “My goal is to keep the 50th a Republican district,” he says. “Last time Ammar-Campa-Najjar came within four points of winning. We can’t let that happen this time. Keep the 50th in Republican hands and defeat Campa-Najjar! He spent $4 million and another $2-3 million that we think came from billionaire Tom Steyer, who put $3 million into the local race into recruiting and registering seven thousand Hispanic votes. They put Campa-Najjar against Hunter and I was caught in the middle.
“Suddenly,” says Abed. “Escondido had seven thousand new Hispanic voters. That’s seven percent of the population. They also employed ballot harvesting. That’s why we won by two percent on election night but ended up losing the election a week later. Those seven thousand were registered through motor voter. The DMV admits there is no process to verify that the people who registered are eligible to vote.”
Abed is focused on two races: the primary and the general. “I think I’d be the leading candidate. I need to raise $1 million, half for the primary and half for general election. Campa-Najjar is the most liberal candidate running for the most conservative district. He is deceiving the public. He is very liberal but campaigning as a Republican. A vote for Campa-Najjar is a vote for Nancy Pelosi. A vote for Sam is a vote for the America first agenda.”
The other candidate on Abed’s radar is radio talk show host and fellow Republican Carl DeMaio, who, Abed points out, “doesn’t live in the district. Carl has a failing record. He failed when he ran for Congress, failed when he ran for mayor. He did the gas tax and he failed. I am a two term mayor who had a successful record in the largest city of the 50th District.”
On June 22 when Abed attended the Lincoln Reagan dinner, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award by San Diego County Republicans. It seemed like a valedictory cap to his career. But on reflection, it seems to have launched a new career.
“It’s an honor that I received for my accomplishments,” said Abed. “I have always been true to my principles. I’ve never made any adjustments to my principles to be reelected, no matter what the issues are. I think I am a principled elected official who never wavers on my promises.
“My goals are simple. I have three big priorities. I want national and border security. Immigration and public safety. The third priority is the economy.”
Because he is from Lebanon before he came to the U.S. 32 years ago, Abed says “I understand Middle Eastern issues very well. As an immigrant myself I can deal with immigration reform. I will always support legal immigration and always oppose illegal immigration. Immigration is going to be at the top of voters’ minds and I am in a good position to deliver that message.”
On the question of the economy: “We need to support and pass the USMCA [trade deal between Mexico, Canada and the U.S.] I think that will be good for the U.S. The economy needs to continue to exceed 3.0 percent growth. I don’t agree with everything the president says and does, but I do agree with him on economic policy; on immigration policy, on tax cut policy and on America first policy.”
Abed finds it frustrating to compare California to the rest of the U.S. “They basically want open borders,” he says. “California is the first state to give illegal immigrants health care when many of our veterans are living on the street. This is insanity. California is drowning in debt. We will soon reach $1 trillion in debt under Governor Gavin Newsom.”
The former mayor likes to namedrop Donald Trump, who he met last year in Washington D.C. “As I told the president when I met with him a year ago, I said California is following the European model. I told the president I lived in Europe thirty-two years ago before I came here. And it was a great Europe. Now when I visited recently, it’s not the same Europe. They are drowning in debt. They are overwhelmed with crime and illegal immigrants who are trying to impose their culture and their religion on these countries. I truly believe that immigrants should come to a country where they love the country and respect the culture. I am one of the people who is proud of my background, but also loves this country.”
He reiterates: “I am running for U.S. Congress because I love America. I love the values of this country and I want to keep this country an exceptional country. I’m going to be the opposite of those far left crazies that want to destroy our culture and our values and the great America that we know.”
Abed doesn’t consider himself especially partisan. “I’ll be happy to work with moderate Democrats,” he says. “To reach out to them and to make sure we have the rule of law. There’s nothing wrong with supporting our police and keeping us strong. Look at these junior congresspeople (like AOC) who want to abolish ICE. Who hates the country that gave them the opportunity to be a congresswoman. These people don’t like America. I’m the opposite. I love this country. It’s not perfect but I think we should not dismantle the foundation that made our country great.”
If he is elected, Abed’s preferred committee assignments would be the committees responsible for immigration, foreign policy and national defense.
Asked where he does split with President Trump, Abed deftly bunted the question. “On basic policies I agree,” he said. “I disagree with the polarization issues. I’m not blaming him for that. I think the Democrats have gone too far. Sometimes what he says is not the best way to communicate. I’m judging him on his actions and not his words.”
He adds, “I think there are a lot of issues that we need to address at the district level to restore the public trust. To make sure that the congressman who represents 750,000 voters has the integrity to restore the public trust. I believe in integrity in public office. We need to make sure that whoever is in Congress adheres to the high ethical and professional standards.”
Abed is also concerned about the national debt. “We have to deal with 24 trillion dollars of national debt. And also the world trade deficit.”
Reminded that every time Republicans are out of power they run to cut the national debt, but once in power they forget that promise, Abed was asked how he as a Republican would deal with that. “I would secure the basic social programs like Social Security,” he said, and shifted the focus to the Democrats, “who want to offer free college education, free health care, open borders,” he said. “I think it’s amazing how far left they went. In California we have 150,000 homeless. California is 12 percent of the U.S. population but 30 percent of the national welfare. Under one party government California is going to be a magnet for homelessness and immigration because they are going to give away free stuff. It is on the way to becoming a Third World country.”
Turning to the subject of health care, Abed says, “The president is working to reduce the price of drugs.” He favors federal spending to improve the infrastructure in California, including freeways, bridges and airports. “California has the highest tax of roads in the nation and we have the worst roads in the union because of labor costs.”
Abed returns again to his accomplishments as mayor. “Homelessness is a big issue. I’ve had a successful model in Escondido. You don’t see homeless people in the parks and on the streets. We had a very successful model for dealing with homelessness. We can’t let people highjack public spaces. Escondido is a good model. We combined compassion and accountability. We provided homeless people with a choice. ‘Do you want out? We will provide you with services, but you can’t be on the streets. We reunited over fifty homeless people with their families.”
He adds, “In Escondido we had a balanced budget every year. We had $2 billion in investments, created over 3,000 jobs and welcomed 2,200 new businesses. We made our local government efficient. We took the city from a $16 million deficit to a $12 million surplus. When I left we had $32 million in reserves.”
Asked if he ever imagined that the mayor of a town half the size of the one he governed (Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana) would be running for president, Abed said, “The difference between me and Buttigieg is this mayor has bad accomplishments. My term was transformational policies. We turned the city around. We grew the city’s image. We won several awards. We adopted pension reform.”