Battle-Tested Congressman Prepares for Another Fight with Party Hawks in 2016

Almost one year away from the 2016 primary, one North Carolina representative is already facing a primary challenge.

Since beginning his opposition to the Iraq war, U.S. Rep. Walter Jones of the 3rd district — and one of the more independent members of Congress — has been a thorn in the side of his party and its leadership. In 2012, Jones was stripped of his position on the House Financial Services Committee and in 2014 faced the toughest primary challenge of his political career. Winning that primary with only 51%, it was reasonable to think his party antagonists would try again.

Over the weekend, the Weekly Standard reported that one of the more promising potential challengers to Jones, state transportation secretary Anthony Tata, was not going to run. A retired brigadier general and West Point graduate, the loss of Tata may move Jones’ party rivals to support another candidate, Phil Law.

A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a “site development supervisor” for Hewlett-Packard in Jacksonville, Law announced his candidacy in March. Taking issue with Jones’ effectiveness as a representative, he told local media, “Jones talks a good talk but he doesn’t actually get anything done.”

Law also addressed what he felt was the problem with 2014’s challenger, Taylor Griffin. Law said, “he was the wrong man” for the job:

“He wasn’t from North Carolina – he lived in DC – he was sent down, he was an operative, he was a registered lobbyist. And a lot of outside money, which Jones pointed out, backed him.”

It is difficult to predict which issues Law might challenge Jones on because the 11-term congressman has amassed a conventionally conservative voting record. Opposing executive amnesty for illegal immigrants, executive orders on gun control, and the Affordable Care Act, Jones was also ranked #39 on the Club for Growth’s most recent scorecard, finishing ahead of party favorites Paul Ryan and Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

In a review of the “Issues” tab on Law’s campaign website, on only two topics is Jones mentioned or alluded to: National Security and Veterans Issues. Jones’ skeptical views on intervention post-2003 are well-known. On veterans issues, Law criticizes Jones for being one of five members in the House to vote against a veterans bill. However, Jones issued a press release at the time explaining his reasoning.

Arguing that the proposed bill, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, would add “$10 billion in deficit spending” and amount to a new entitlement, Jones wrote that he could not support a bill while allowing:

“…the current broken system to remain in place and increasing federal spending at a time that our national debt has already reached $17 trillion.”

It should be noted that the vote came after Jones had survived the primary. An argument for fiscal responsibility could fall on deaf ears in a district housing the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base, although Walter Jones has weathered the storms for nearly a decade.

The difference will likely be whether any other candidates enter the race or if sufficient numbers of Republican hawks will support and energize Law’s campaign.

Image: U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.)