Politics & Government

He’s known for secession bill and attacking Obama as ‘Islamic.’ He wants a seat in Congress.

Rep. Michael Speciale speaks during a session at the NC Legislative Building in Raleigh on August 19, 2014.
Rep. Michael Speciale speaks during a session at the NC Legislative Building in Raleigh on August 19, 2014. cseward@newsobserver.com

Three Republicans plan to run for North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District seat, which was left vacant earlier this month after the death of longtime Rep. Walter Jones.

Michele Nix, the vice chair of the NC GOP, has filed campaign-finance paperwork to run for the seat. Rep. Phil Shepard, a five-term state House member from Onslow County, and Rep. Michael Speciale, a four-term state House member from Craven County, on Monday announced their intentions to run as well. The announcements by Speciale and Shepard were first reported by WITN.

Jones had represented Eastern North Carolina since 1995 and it hasn’t been announced when an election will be held to replace him.

State law gives Gov. Roy Cooper authority to set a date for a special election, which he hasn’t done yet. By law, it must include a primary election for each party and candidates must win at least 30 percent of the vote in the primary to avoid a runoff.

The district, considered a safe Republican seat, includes 16 counties in the northeastern corner of the state and part of Pitt County. Nix, Shepard and Speciale jump into the candidate pool with Phil Law, who ran against Jones in 2018 and announced his 2020 campaign before Jones’ death.

While there’s no frontrunner in the race, Nix and Speciale are the candidates most familiar with the spotlight — Nix as a voice for the state Republican Party and Speciale as a conservative firebrand in the House.

Speciale sponsored a bill in 2017 that aimed to defy the U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriage.

Also in 2017, he tried to repeal the part of the state constitution that prohibits secession. In 2015, he shared a post that referred to President Barack Obama as an “Islamic son of a bitch,” and in 2013 mocked a bill that would’ve required dog breeders to exercise dogs and use humane euthanasia.

“Exercise on a daily basis – if I kick him across the floor, is that daily exercise?” Speciale asked. “‘Euthanasia performed humanely’ – so I should choose the ax or the baseball bat?”

On Monday, Speciale alluded to those headlines in his campaign announcement.

“He is unapologetic for what he believes and has made media headlines for standing strong for those positions,” the announcement said.

Nix, for her part, caught criticism in October for posting an image on Instagram that some interpreted as racist. The image attempted to compare the Republican and Democratic parties: On the GOP side, the word “jobs” next to a white hand, and the word “mobs” next to a darker hand on the Democratic side.

Nix disputed the notion that the image was racist.