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Tight House Race Unfolds In California's 50th District

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene in Culver City, Calif. This is a state that has a number of really interesting congressional races on this midterm Election Day. And we're going to focus on one right now at a polling place outside San Diego. It is California's 50th Congressional District. Ask last year, and people would have told you this would be a cakewalk for Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter. But then he was indicted over the summer on charges of using a quarter-million dollars in campaign funds for personal expenses, and that has changed the race. KQED's John Sepulvado joins me now from El Cajon, Calif.

John, good morning.

JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So you're at a polling place just east of San Diego. What's it like? Are people turning out?

SEPULVADO: Yeah. So this is a very traditionally Republican area. And we're seeing, you know, a lot of Republican messaging near here. But the folks who are coming, A - there are people who either haven't voted before or are lapsed voters. Some of them didn't vote, according to the poll workers, since 2008. And they weren't aware of updates that the California secretary of state's office has made. They weren't aware of different things going on with the ballot, but they came specifically to vote for this congressional race, which has gone from being a plus-15 Republican (inaudible) by just about 30 points last - in 2016 to being, according to the polls, neck and neck. And we're starting to see this turnout machine bring people who aren't traditional voters.

GREENE: Wow. OK. Well, I mean, it's - the predictions were both parties were going to see huge turnouts, so it sounds like that might be happening here. Let me just ask you, John, I mean, in talking to voters, does this seem like it's really the story of a Republican congressman who is now in a really tough fight because of a scandal or are there deeper forces at work?

SEPULVADO: So there were some ads that Duncan Hunter ran - this district is very close to being 50 percent white and 50 percent minority. There are a lot of Hispanics. But mainly, there are a lot of Chaldeans. These are folks from Iraq and that region who came over who identify with the Christian faith. And what happened was Representative Hunter ran these ads that accused his opponent of, essentially, being a secret Muslim infiltrator, trying to infiltrate the U.S. government. KQED described these ads as racist and bigoted. And what we're seeing is a large reaction to those ads because many of these Chaldeans who are here right now have been called that throughout their lives, and they really, really didn't like it. So that seems to be a big driving force this morning.

GREENE: OK, one of the many interesting races we're going to be following today as we - as control of the House of Representatives hangs in the balance on this midterm Election Day. KQED's John Sepulvado is in El Cajon, Calif., outside San Diego.

John, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.

SEPULVADO: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.