“This is a country that was founded by people fleeing religious persecution,” Kasabati said. Was it really too much to ask that the party of religious freedom extend them the same courtesy now?
On a warm night in October, about 80 students gathered in a softly lit auditorium at the University of San Diego to hear Ammar Campa-Najjar and other panelists offer advice for minorities entering politics.
After weeks of pitching himself nonstop to Trump voters in his deep-red district, Campa-Najjar had built up a collection of cringe-inducing encounters—and now he seemed eager to unload them. He talked about the man who refused to shake his hand and called him a terrorist, about the supporter who suggested he shave his beard so he wouldn’t look so much like a terrorist. As he spoke, I wondered just how much time he’d been forced to spend on the campaign trail assuring voters that he didn’t want to kill them.
Read: How American Muslims are trying to take back their government
These interactions had clearly made him hyperalert. Even here—at the kind of event where he could comfortably riff on “toxic masculinity,” and get away with saying things like, “Fellas, we need to be more woke”—he couldn’t quite let his guard down. When another panelist said something about raising an “army” of allies, Campa-Najjar’s ears perked up. “See,” he cracked, “that’s something I could never say.”
After the event, we went outside and took seats at a table in the courtyard. Campa-Najjar looked every bit the well-coiffed congressional candidate—shiny hair, dark suit, flag pin—but he also exuded a kind of underdog exhaustion. I told him he looked tired. He told me he was.
The attacks of the past few weeks had left him indignant, but also darkly amused. He joked that if an Islamic terrorist ever actually encountered the two candidates together, he would likely take out the ex-Muslim apostate first. And for all the nonsense about Campa-Najjar being a potential “security threat,” he noted it was Hunter—the one under indictment—who couldn’t obtain a security clearance.
On the whole, Campa-Najjar said he was surprised by how ham-fisted Hunter’s strategy had been. “I thought there would be more finesse to it,” he told me.
Now, though, he was more confident than ever that victory was at hand. With Obama-esque audacity, he began ticking off all the reasons to be optimistic. The district was more diverse than many realized. “McCain Republicans” were repelled by the Muslim-bashing. While his own campaign was infused with idealism and “youth,” Hunter’s was cloaked in the stench of “desperation.”
Very soon, he assured me, the good voters of the California Fiftieth would reject the ugly politics that had permeated their community this year and send him to Congress.
Perhaps detecting my skepticism, Campa-Najjar tried to conjure an alternative happy ending. “And if we fall short,” he tried, “we proved that we exceeded expectations and that—” but then he stopped himself. He couldn’t do it.
“I think we’re going to win.”
* A previous version of this article mischaracterized the events at the 1972 Munich Olympics. We regret the error.