Commentary

Christensen: Cheney's revenge in NC's 3rd Congressional District?

rchristensen@newsobserver.comApril 15, 2014 

Could this be former Vice President Dick Cheney’s revenge for U.S. Rep. Walter Jones suggesting that he should rot in hell for his role in the Iraq War?

Jones, the 3rd District Republican, outraged the neo-conservatives last year when he told a group in Raleigh: “Lyndon Johnson’s probably rotting in hell right now because of the Vietnam War, and he probably needs to move over for Dick Cheney.”

Cheney allies and others are pouring money into Eastern North Carolina to take out Jones in next month’s GOP primary.

The Emergency Committee for Israel has put $348,000 into an independent TV campaign against Jones. Its chairman is Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a Cheney ally.

This comes on top of the $197,000 in TV ads from an independent group called Ending Spending Action Fund, which is chaired by Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade.

The beneficiary of the spending is Taylor Griffin, a North Carolina native who is a former aide to President George W. Bush. He also worked in the campaigns of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, and he operated a public relations firm in Washington, before moving to New Bern last year.

This is the first time a primary challenger has had the funding to compete with Jones, who has one of the best-known names in Tar Heel politics. His father was in Congress before him, and Jones has served for 20 years.

Jonathan Brooks, Jones’ chief political strategist, said the influx of money is an example of Potomac politics being played out along the Pamlico Sound.

“It’s the neocons going after the paleocons,” Brooks said. “It’s part of the larger civil war going on in the Republican Party.”

The neocons refer to a conservative movement that played a major role during the Bush administration in promoting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The paleocons are not a fixed ideology, but they tend to disagree with neocons regarding such issues as military intervention, illegal immigration and foreign aid.

Jones, 71, is a controversial figure in GOP circles, because he went from Iraq War supporter to an opponent who writes letters of condolence to families of American casualties. He is also a political maverick, often angering House Speaker John Boehner by straying from the leadership positions.

Marc Rotterman, a Raleigh GOP consultant who once worked for Jones, has become a critic, saying he has strayed from his conservative moorings.

Rotterman noted that the National Journal rated him as having the least conservative voting record of any House Republican last year.

But Jones’ supporters said it also depends on how you define conservative. Brooks said that Jones is the only member of the House to have never voted to raise the debt ceiling. He has never voted for a foreign aid bill. He says Jones gets dinged in congressional scorecards for voting – as he did last week – against bills such Rep. Paul Ryan’s House budget bill, because he thought it spent too much, not too little.

Dot Helms, the widow of the late Sen. Jesse Helms, has cut a radio spot, calling Jones “a real conservative” who is not afraid to say no to either party.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former presidential candidate Ron Paul, leaders of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, plan to endorse Jones.

But Kristol, who wrote a “Dear Fellow Conservative” letter to Republicans in the district, argues that Jones has changed.

“Walter Jones came to Washington 20 years ago, and at first seemed a reliable and sensible conservative,” Kristol writes. “In recent years, he’s become something very different.”

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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