GOP presidential candidate upbeat despite Iowa showing

Over the weekend, Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter came in third-to-last of 11 candidates in the Ames, Iowa, Republican straw poll. Out of more than 14,000 votes, he pulled 174.

"I think we did very well," Hunter, a congressman from San Diego, said in Las Vegas on Tuesday. "We were pretty happy with our 174 votes."

Hunter got fewer votes than former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who boycotted the contest, or former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, who is not officially a candidate. He did much worse than former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who dropped out after the poll.

But Hunter said his showing was still impressive because he didn't pay voters' $35 entry fees to the event, as many other campaigns did. (He did, however, serve homemade ice cream.)

Hunter said his speech in Ames was well received and he picked up a lot of campaign volunteers. He pointed to good showings in earlier straw polls in Arizona and South Carolina.

And so the little-known member of the House of Representatives, who gets less than 1 percent of the vote in most Republican polls, insists he still has a chance to become president. "The Republican Party wants a real conservative," he said in a Tuesday interview with the Review-Journal's editorial board.

Hunter says he is distinguished from the rest of the field by his stances on immigration and trade.

In 1994, Hunter proposed the legislation that built a 14-mile fence along the California-Mexico border. Hunter says the double fence with a high-speed road in between dramatically reduced the smuggling of people and illegal drugs and cut the crime rate in San Diego.

Hunter has proposed a provision that would build 854 more miles of fencing along the other parts of the Southern border that he says are "smuggling corridors." If elected, he said, he would get the fence built within six months.

At a lunch at Sunset Station in Henderson that was a fundraiser for local Republican clubs, Hunter said he does not favor allowing illegal immigrants currently living in the United States to stay permanently or become citizens. "You have to follow the law," he said. "For the people that say we can't deport these people, we deport thousands of people every month from this country."

The crowd of about 60 people in the half-filled casino lounge applauded.

Hunter added that visas for highly educated foreigners shouldn't be expanded, because those people could do more good helping to improve their native countries.

Audience member Jean Heatherly, a 63-year-old retiree, said she had thought her favorite Republican candidate was Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who won Saturday's Iowa poll. But she took an online quiz that told her her views lined up most with Hunter's.

"He's got great ideas," especially on immigration, Heatherly said. "I just like everything about him."

Asked whether she thought Hunter had a chance to win, she paused and said, "I think he's got a lot of hard work ahead of him."

Most would say that's an understatement. It has been more than a century since anyone made the jump from the House to the presidency.

On Tuesday, in an article headlined "It's Time for Them to Go," national pundit Stu Rothenberg called for Hunter, Rep. Tom Tancredo and Rep. Ron Paul to be excluded from future Republican debates, saying they are not just long shots but "no shots."

Paul, by the way, got seven times as many votes as Hunter in Ames; Tancredo got more than 10 times as many.

Tancredo, a Colorado congressman, has built more of a national brand than Hunter on the immigration issue, while sharing Hunter's social conservatism. Hunter said what sets him apart is the trade issue.

Hunter vigorously opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and similar treaties. He says he wants to restore America's manufacturing base. "It's a myth that the Republican Party embraces free trade," he said. "The multinational companies do, but the middle class, the heart of the Republican Party, does not."

Something Hunter didn't mention in his Nevada appearances was his opposition to gambling, which he calls on his campaign Web site "a serious problem in today's society, every much as addictive and destructive as alcohol and illegal drugs."

Asked about it, Hunter said his opposition is to the "proliferation and expansion" of Indian casinos. Although his Web site says gambling "is equally deserving of as much attention in terms of federal policy" as illegal drugs, he said he is a states' rights conservative who wouldn't attempt to ban gambling on the federal level."