Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) narrowly prevailed in arguably the most formidable electoral challenge he has faced in his 20-year congressional career, beating Taylor Griffin, a first-time candidate, former Bush administration official, and Eastern North Carolina native who was backed by the Washington establishment and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
The Associated Press called the race for Jones. With 87% of precincts reporting, he was up 51-45% over Griffin.
Neither the primary race nor the candidates fit nicely into the conventional boxes, especially the GOP Establishment versus Tea Party story-line that has dominated other GOP primary fights.
Griffin was backed Republican establishment figures like former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
But former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also endorsed him, perhaps a gesture of loyalty after he fended off attacks against her during the 2008 presidential campaign as a campaign spokesman. The local Crystal Coast Tea Party Patriots group also backed Griffin who, like Jones, is pro-life, received the top rating from the NRA, and staunchly opposes Obamacare.
An Eastern Shore native who worked for Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), in George W. Bush’s Treasury Department, and co-founded Hamilton Place Strategies before selling his ownership share to move back to North Carolina and run for Congress, Griffin often mentioned his work for Helms, especially his opposition to the United Nations. But Helms’ widow, Dorothy, endorsed Jones, who ran radio ads touting her support.
Jones supported the Iraq War before becoming one of the most anti-war candidates from either party. He is the most liberal Republican in Congress, according to National Journal, and has voted with President Barack Obama more than any other Republican. But he is also reviled by the Republican establishment and leadership that often favors compromise and voted against Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’s reelection as speaker in 2013.
Jones is the only Republican still in Congress who voted for Dodd-Frank, favors the Democrat-authored DISCLOSE Act, was removed from the Financial Services Committee, and has not had a good relationship with the Republican establishment and leadership. He supported impeaching then-Vice President Dick Cheney and implied that President George W. Bush should have been impeached as well.
After Jones led the effort to change “french fries” to “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria after France refused to support the U.S.’s mission in Iraq after 9/11, he had an about face on the war, even supporting efforts to impeach Cheney in 2007.
“Congress will not hold anyone to blame,” Jones recently said at an event for former Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-TX) Young Americans for Liberty group in North Carolina. “Lyndon Johnson’s probably rotting in hell right now because of the Vietnam War, and he probably needs to move over for Dick Cheney.”
Jones said that Cheney and the Bush administration bought “into a lie to send men and women to die.”
His anti-war views endeared him to Paul, the libertarian icon pictured above with Jones. Paul endorsed Jones and blasted “false ads from Washington, DC special interests” while praising Jones as someone who “won’t vote for foreign aid.”
Paul’s fervent support is one reason why some National Security hawks poured money into the race to support Griffin in a district that is also home to the Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune. The Emergency Committee for Israel, which is affiliated with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, spent six-figures running ads for Griffin against Jones, who has the support of the liberal J Street group.
Griffin, who went to Alaska in 2008 to fend off the liberal press then trying to attack Palin on ethics complaints for which she was later absolved, also touted Palin’s endorsement on his website and campaign signs in the last week of the campaign.
Palin said that Washington needed someone like Griffin to “stay true to your beliefs of smaller government, protecting life and furthering conservative principles.”
Griffin does not offer the kind of red meat rhetoric of candidates that Palin typically endorses, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Griffin, as CNN noted, said he would be “willing to cut deals, horse-trade and generally play nice with other elected officials and appointees if his district needs it,” especially along the coast where residents have asked for help from the federal government to save their endangered tourism industry. In an interview with MamaGrizzlyRadio, Griffin also emphasized the importance of legislating by saying Helms taught him that it was not mutually exclusive to be principled and an effective legislator.
Ending Spending Action Fund, which was founded by Joe Ricketts, though, did not see Griffin as someone who would waste taxpayer funds and also spent six-figures on his behalf. Brian Baker, the president of Ending Spending Action Fund, which has been against earmarks and is dedicated to electing “fiscally responsible leaders,” told Breitbart News that though “Jones has served with distinction,” he seems to have “forgotten his conservative values.”
He said Jones’ refusal to support the Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) “Path to Prosperity” budget — in addition to his liberal voting record — convinced the group to oppose his re-election.
Jones faced a primary challenger in 2008 who could not raise money to compete with an entrenched incumbent who relatively popular with constituents. That was not the case this year. In the first quarter of 2014, Griffin raised more money than Jones, hauling in $118,000 to Jones’ $102,000, giving him the war chest to effectively have a fighting change against the 20-year incumbent whose father was a longtime Democratic Congressman.