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Partisans May Again Threaten Independent Republican's N.C. Congressional Seat

by Carl Wicklander, published

NORTH CAROLINA -- Not more than a few weeks into the new Congress, one independent member of the GOP is already facing the likelihood of a primary challenger.

Roll Call reports that U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) is likely to face a well-funded primary challenge for the second consecutive election. Jones' 2014 opponent, consultant and former aide to George W. Bush, Taylor Griffin, has not announced a run yet. However, "nearly a half-dozen Tar Heel GOP operatives . . . said they expect Griffin to challenge Jones again in 2016." Furthermore, sources said "a second meeting of Jones and Griffin will be different."

In the 2014 contest, Griffin focused on supposed ideological deviations and assailed Jones as the "most pro-Obama Republican in the House." Jones won the primary 51-45 before decisively winning the general election. Despite the tactic, reports that Jones still votes with his party 80 percent of the time.

More than $1 million from outside groups was spent on behalf of Jones' opponent that year. A "six-figure" ad sponsored by a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel ran a commercial criticizing Jones' refusal to vote for sanctions on Iran while showing images of American and Israeli flags burning.

Despite the 2014 primary scare, Jones has not backed away from controversy. In addition to frequently voting against his party, Jones is also a leader in the effort to declassify 28 redacted pages of the 9/11 Report.

After his 2014 primary victory, Jones explained his political independence:

"When my party is right, I vote with my party. When they are not, I don't vote with them. . . . That's what gets me in trouble in primaries." - U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.)

Jones has represented his district since first winning office in 1994 when he switched to the GOP after serving as a Democrat in the North Carolina House of Representatives. A prospective 2016 match between Jones and any other opponent may resemble the 2014 contest.

Jones, a pro-lifer, has spoken against President Obama's executive order on amnesty as well as government-managed trade deals. In a conservative district where Obama barely surpassed 40 percent in either election, any primary opponent will have few foundations from which to attack Jones. The basis of such a campaign will likely concentrate on Jones' divergent foreign policy views.

Representing a district that houses Camp LeJeune Marine base, Walter Jones has taken a political risk in consistently opposing military interventions. So far, it has not hampered his electoral success. However, one GOP operative warns that if Griffin runs, he will perform better than in 2014, saying, "he's been building an organization," and getting "better at retail politics."

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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