Republican of the Week: Congressman Walter Jones
A contest in northeastern North Carolina this Tuesday for a House seat offers a test of the willingness of core Republican voters to embrace a pro-war message -- the same one Sen. John McCain is pushing at the top of the ticket.
Republican Rep. Walter Jones is facing a tough primary challenge as a result of his antiwar positions. Republican Party leaders are backing away: they have turned against Rep. Jones in his conservative eastern North Carolina district.
When President Bush was gearing up to invade Iraq five years ago, Rep. Walter Jones backed him. As France resisted, the North Carolina Republican led the charge for "Freedom Fries" in the House cafeteria to eradicate any mention of the reluctant European ally from the congressional menu.
Then Jones himself turned against the war. As a result, he is in danger of losing his place in the House in a primary battle Tuesday.
No public polls have been conducted in the district, and Jones's power of incumbency should give him an edge. But many party activists have abandoned Jones and embraced McLaughlin, who has won straw poll after straw poll at Republican county conventions around the district, including at a districtwide meeting last weekend that Jones declined to attend.
Jones holds few campaign events, instead concentrating money on television and radio. His campaign Web site lists political consultant Karen Rotterman as a media contact, but she declined to speak on the record. Jones declined requests for an interview.
The tense primary in North Carolina's Third District is the latest in a series of intraparty upheavals triggered by the war. Jones's fellow antiwar Republican, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, was defeated in a primary in Maryland in February.
Swept into office in 1994 with Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, Jones is a social conservative and was a big champion of toppling Saddam Hussein. When he found out the fast-food chain "Cubbie's" in Beaufort, N.C., had scrapped french fries in lieu of Freedom Fries, Jones helped bring them to the Capitol in a statement condemning French opposition to the war.
Then Jones made an abrupt turn. In congressional hearings, he has said he felt betrayed by the administration for faulty intelligence justifying the invasion. He often speaks of personal encounters with the Marines and families stationed at Camp Lejeune in his district. Last year, he described a trip to an elementary school on the base where he took questions from children. Jones recounts,
This one kid, he was just wanting to make a statement, and the statement was, 'My daddy is not dead yet'.By 2005, Jones was on a media blitz with liberal Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, touting their legislation for a withdrawal from Iraq within 16 months.
Former Ranger, Joe McLaughlin, challenges Jones in North Carolina's Third District. Activists from outside the district have signed on with the McLaughlin campaign as well. Grover Norquist, a prominent antitax conservative, traveled to endorse McLaughlin in a three-city tour. Norquist spoke out against Jones because he says the congressman broke his pledge to not raise taxes by supporting the Democrats' energy and agriculture bills.
This is the other race to watch in the North Carolina next Tuesday.