Alumnus James Kimber has never run for public office, but the Democrat is taking aim at a California congressional seat held by a household name.
Kimber, a neurosurgeon who previously served in the U.S. Navy, will first have to win a Democratic primary next summer. If he succeeds, he would square off in a San Diego County congressional district against two-term incumbent Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., R-Calif.
Kimber has shaped his message around his 20 years of military service, emphasizing veterans' issues.
The 50-year-old, whose father and grandfather also served as doctors in the Navy, has promised to support programs aimed at getting veterans back into the workforce after they return from overseas.
"Veterans are not being given the treatment that they deserve. There are a lot of military issues and this district is home to a lot of military people in and out of duty," Kimber said. "[Hunter] should be their biggest advocate, yet he is absent. When it comes down to what they really need, I am out there doing as much as I really can."
The political underdog would run against a Republican opponent who also brings years of experience in the military – and name recognition. When Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran, earned a spot in the House of Representatives in 2009, he replaced his father, who had held the position for 16 years.
About half of the registered voters in California's 50th district are registered Republicans, while Democrats make up about a quarter of voters. But Kimber, who launched his grassroots effort nine months ago, said he is not intimidated.
"To this day, if you poll the people of this district, people still think it's the dad. If the son had any other name, he wouldn't have been elected," Kimber said. "He doesn't do anything. He blocks the agenda that I see moving forward."
Kimber earned a bachelor's degree from the School of Medicine and Health Services, where he studied while serving as a medical officer in the Navy. He said the University's online medical program, which launched in 1997, drew him to GW.
Kimber said one of his strongest memories from his time at GW is from 2001, when the attacks on the World Trade Center prevented him from walking at graduation. At the time, Kimber had been deployed to Arabian Gulf – where his ship intercepted suspected terrorists trying to flee Pakistan. To mark his graduation, then-University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg sent Kimber a letter that marked the completion of his studies in the mail.
Stanford University accepted the Long Beach, Calif. native to its physician's assistant program after he retired from the Navy with more than a dozen awards for service. No, he is building a physician's assistant program at California State University at San Marcos.
Kimber has highlighted his understanding of the healthcare system in his campaign, boasting support for the Affordable Care Act, calling for more transparency in hospital charges and keeping insurance rates in check.
Rebecca Taylor, a field organizer, said Kimber stands out because of his moderate stance on issues. Also, his military background has helped him relate to voters in a district with one of the highest ratios of military members per square mile.
San Diego, home to 20,000 military personnel, has the Navy's largest base on the West Coast.
"He brings that perspective that allows him to connect to those people," Taylor said.