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Independent Republican Walter Jones Faces Tough Primary Challenge in N.C.

by Carl Wicklander, published

In North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District, a long-time incumbent is facing a primary challenge this April.

Known for his initial support for the 2003 Iraq War and his re-branding of French fries as "Freedom Fries," Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, Jr. is facing a potentially well-financed primary opponent -- consulting firm founder Taylor Griffin.

Before starting his firm, Hamilton Place Strategies, Griffin was an aide to President George W. Bush, an adviser in the Treasury Department, and a spokesman for Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.

When he announced his intention to challenge Jones last October, Griffin told Politico, "California should have the most liberal Republican [House member], not eastern North Carolina."

It is Griffin's conservative bona fides that are taking a key role in the race. On the

front page of his campaign website it reads: "100% Conservative & 100% for Eastern North Carolina."

In February, the Washington Post mentioned Jones as the "most pro-Obama Republican in the House," based largely on the fact that Jones supported Obama approximately 31 percent of the time in 2013. It is an issue Jones' primary opponent has seized by advertising it on his website and on his Twitter account.

However, the road to portray Jones as an Obama Democrat may be more difficult than Griffin realizes. During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama widely assailed John McCain for voting with President George W. Bush up to 95 percent of the time. Yet, it was pointed out that during the same period Obama voted with his opposition party's president between 40 to 50 percent of the time -- a higher rate than Jones votes with Obama.

Regardless, Jones has aggravated his party for recanting his support for the Iraq War and by voting for the Dodd-Frank financial regulations despite voting against TARP and the 2008 bank bailouts.

As a result, some big Republican donors, including past presidential campaign managers and consultants, have already rallied around Griffin and held a Capitol Hill fundraiser for him in February.

Elsewhere on the money front, Griffin is keeping his own. Jones, who has been accustomed to fundraising since winning his first election in 1994, has more money in the bank. However, Griffin out-raised him in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Jones responded to his opponent by saying that it is his primary challenger who is plugged into the Washington scene:

"This is again an example of the influence of Washington. I am an independent. The people back home know I'm an independent. And I don't think people back home want a puppet of Washington to go down there and represent them."

In 2008 -- the first time Jones faced significant primary opposition -- he defeated his intraparty opponent 59-41.

North Carolina's semi-closed primary is set for May 6.

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