WASHINGTON — Rep. Walter Jones, who is facing a tough three-way Republican primary challenge in the Eastern North Carolina district that he has represented for more than 23 years, will not run for Congress after 2018.
Jones, 75, was first elected to Congress in 1994.
“He just thinks it’s time to go home and spend some time with the wife and the children and the dog,” said Doug Raymond, a consultant with the Jones campaign. “I think he desperately wants to have a final term. There are things he’s very passionate about that he wants to see to fruition.”
Jones faces two Republican challengers — Craven County commissioner Scott Dacey and Marine Corps veteran Phil Law — in the May 8 primary. No Democrats have filed to run in the district, meaning the winner of the GOP primary is all but certain to win the seat.
Jones holds a 9-point lead over Dacey and a 22-point edge over Law, according to a Civitas Institute poll of 700 likely Republican primary voters in the 3rd Congressional District released this week. The poll found 37 percent for Jones, 28 percent for Dacey and 15 percent for Law. It also found 21 percent undecided in a district that covers a large swath of Eastern North Carolina covering Greenville, Kinston, Elizabeth City, Jacksonville and the Outer Banks.
Jones picked up a key endorsement this week from Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. The campaign already has television ads featuring Meadows.
“If it is good for the people of Eastern North Carolina and it upholds the principles of our Founding Fathers, Walter Jones will fight the fight,” Meadows said in an endorsement letter. “Primaries are not uncommon to those of us who are willing to stand for what is right.”
Meadows endorsement could blunt criticism from Dacey, who has been running radio and television ads blasting Jones for his lack of support of President Donald Trump. Dacey is running as a yes vote for Trump in the House. Trump, who won the district by 23.6 points, is held in “such high regard” by the voters he has interacted with, Dacey said.
Eighty-three percent of likely GOP voters have a favorable opinion of Trump, according to the Civitas poll.
“They’re anxious to have a congressman who is going to support the president,” Dacey said of voters. “Every time they learn something new about how our congressman is voting against the president’s agenda, they are dismayed.”
Jones votes with Trump 52.5 percent of the time, the lowest percentage of any Republican member of the House, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. Meadows votes with Trump 89.6 percent of the time, according to the site.
Dacey has highlighted votes where Jones differed from the president’s preference and tying him to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, including votes against the Republican tax bill, against the budget bill and against an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill.
Jones said he won’t vote for any bill that increases the national debt. “I can’t do it,” he said.
“If that tax bill was not paid for and if President Obama had been pushing the tax bill, would you want me to vote for it? I don’t think so.” he said. “Well, now it’s pushed by Mr. Trump. They want you to vote on it. That’s what is so hypocritical.”
Raymond said having a strong conservative voice like Meadows weigh in gives credibility to Jones’ anti-debt votes. Meadows, in his letter, credits Jones with being an outspoken voice in Congress on our growing national debt.
“I know much has been made about a few of Walter’s votes but I can tell you that they were votes of conscience, knowing that they would not have an effect on the overall passage of the legislation,” Meadows wrote in his letter. “... To take a few votes out of context and try to paint Walter Jones as anything but the strong Conservative that he is is disingenuous and the typical political rhetoric that makes Washington politics such a toxic environment.”
Law, a Marine Corps veteran who fought in Iraq in 2003, said that he supports Trump’s agenda, but will not be a rubber stamp for the president — a hit on Dacey.
“When elected to Congress, I want to do it on my own fruition and be able to stand next to President Trunp in support of the Trump agenda and not stand behind him,” Law said. “I’m not going to ride on anyone’s coattails on the way up there.”
Law, an information technology manager, finished second to Jones in the 2016 primary, winning 20 percent of the vote. He said immigration is his No. 1 issue, citing illegal immigration as a reason for American unemployment and low wages.
Calling Jones a “career politician” and Dacey “a career lobbyist,” Law said he is a better representative for the people of the district.
“I’m the normal guy, not rich or powerful, that wants to reach out for the ordinary citizen,” he said.
Dacey has been endorsed by former GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Herman Cain and has outraised Jones throughout the campaign. It has allowed Dacey to put up radio and television ads. He said that’s helped shift things “considerably” for him.
Outside groups, too, have put money into the race against Jones, which is nothing new. In 2014, independent expenditure groups spent more than $663,000 against Jones. He defeated Taylor Griffin 50.9 to 45.1 percent in 2014.
“Walter’s won primaries against pretty aggressive candidates in the past, people who accused him of not voting with George Bush. He voted primarily against Obama, but people said he voted too much with Obama,” said Carmine Scavo, a political science professor at East Carolina University. “He’s beaten those back.”