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Taylor Griffin Sees Opening to Take Down 11-Term Congressman in N.C.

by Carl Wicklander, published

With the addition of another candidate to the third congressional district race, North Carolina U.S. Rep. Walter Jones will be facing a familiar foe in 2016. This familiar face will likely be accompanied by the familiar obstacles that could keep this eastern coastal district in the incumbent's favor.

Late last week, Taylor Griffin, who lost a primary to Jones 51-45 in 2014, announced he was running again. A renewed Griffin candidacy was long speculated, but there had been no official movement until recently.

After retired general Anthony Tata dropped out of the race, only a little-known candidate, Phil Law, remained in the contest against Jones. In a press release issued on Thursday, Griffin criticized Jones, charging that the ten-term congressman is not a loyal Republican or conservative:

"In the 20 years Walter Jones has been in Congress, his voting record too often strays from conservative principles. He votes with liberal California Democrat Nancy Pelosi more than any other North Carolina Republican. He refused to support the Republican nominee for president each of the last three elections and just this year he voted against a defense funding bill critical for eastern North Carolina's military. Walter Jones is a good man, he's just not a good conservative."

Also in his announcement, Griffin said that in deciding to run again:

"What I hear again and again is, 'It's time.' It's time for a congressman who's effective for Eastern North Carolina and who's consistently conservative. I felt we could deliver that."

Although his 2014 run came close to defeating Jones, Griffin had some baggage and missteps that might have cost him. Touting himself as a true conservative, Griffin emphasized his connection to the late former North Carolina U.S. Senator Jesse Helms. However, it was Jones who received an endorsement from Helms' widow.

Griffin also battled charges in the 2014 race that he was a carpetbagger without genuine roots or connections to the district. Although from the eastern region of the state, Griffin at some point moved 80 miles from his birthplace in Wilson County, located partly in the first and thirteenth districts, to New Bern, which is in the third district.

Tim Carney, who covers lobbyist activity for the Washington Examiner, wrote during their previous race that while "cash from lobbyists makes up less than 3 percent of all donations" in congressional races, "nearly 20 percent of Griffin's individual donations come from K Street."

The Emergency Committee for Israel, a super PAC connected to neoconservative journalist William Kristol, contributed at least $300,000 to Griffin for a controversial television ad. Doing legal work for the campaign was Ben Ginsberg, a lawyer for the Romney presidential campaign who was instrumental in passing controversial changes to the Republican National Convention's nominating rules that opponents say were designed to lock out conservatives and other non-establishment candidates.

Walter Jones immediately responded to the re-emergence of his old rival with a fundraising appeal, featuring his opponent in a sports car saying, "Here we go again":

"Get ready to see hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on television and mail ads from the same out-of-state ad hoc special interest lobbyists and insiders. Last time, a whopping 96% of Taylor Griffin's money came from outside eastern North Carolina."

Announcing his candidacy roughly a year out from the 2016 primary, Griffin is ahead of schedule compared to last time when he announced in October 2013 and lost by only six points seven months later. However, the earlier announcement may provide Jones with added time to build his case against his adversary.

Image: Taylor Griffin

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