Sophie McBain in New Statesman America:
When Ammar Campa-Najjar was nine years old, his Palestinian father moved his family to Gaza, the narrow strip of Palestinian territory that has been under an Israeli blockade for over a decade. His family was living there when the second intifada broke out in 2000, and Israeli security forces crushed a violent Palestinian uprising with deadly and often indiscriminate force. He remembers when the electricity and water supply were cut off and sheltering in his kitchen while his neighbourhood was bombed. He remembers how a military Hummer crashed into his family’s car, causing him to burn his back and fracture his thigh and putting his younger brother into a coma.
“It was a pretty formative experience. I saw the deep economic injustice that was happening and certain conditions that are better left imagined than described. But then you see them happening here, in America too, the wealthiest and most powerful country,” Campa-Najjar tells me when we speak on the phone. “I thought to myself when I came back to America… why am I seeing similar conditions in the US?”
Campa-Najjar, a 29-year-old former Obama staffer whose boyband good looks have inspired Buzzfeed and Vogue articles, as well as much Twitter mirth, is running for Congress is California’s 50th district on a progressive agenda. Like many of the candidates New Statesman America is profiling ahead of the midterms, he has been endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group that is likely to emerge as a leading force should the Democrats flip Congress this year. Its members support policies such as Medicare-for-all, an increased minimum wage and an expansion of social security. The Californian 50th district has been held by Republican Duncan Hunter for over a decade, and before that it was held by his father. Donald Trump won the district by 15 points in 2016. But Campa-Najjar’s chances were boosted significantly in August when Hunter was indicted for using more than $250,000 of campaign funds for personal expenses. Campa-Najjar has also launched a powerful grassroots campaign and has the endorsement of his former boss, President Barack Obama. Recent polling has put Campa-Najjar within one or two points of Hunter in the midterms.