Politics & Government

Gingrich, Giuliani enlisted to make final pitches in feisty NC congressional runoff

Medical doctors Greg Murphy, left, and Joan Perry were headed toward a runoff in the Republican primary for U.S. House in Eastern North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District.
Medical doctors Greg Murphy, left, and Joan Perry were headed toward a runoff in the Republican primary for U.S. House in Eastern North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District.

A pair of Republican stalwarts are lending their voices to opposing campaigns in the final days of a feisty runoff in Eastern North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is now President Donald Trump’s lawyer, has recorded robocalls to voters on behalf of state Rep. Greg Murphy, a urologic surgeon. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is doing robocalls on behalf of Joan Perry, a Kinston pediatrician and first-time candidate.

Republican voters will choose between Murphy and Perry as their nominee for September’s special election on Tuesday. Murphy and Perry finished first and second, respectively, in April’s initial primary in the special election to replace the late Rep. Walter Jones, who died in February.

Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. The Republican winner will join Democrat Allen Thomas, Libertarian Tim Harris and Constitution Party candidate Greg Holt on the ballot for the Sept. 10 general election.

Registered Republicans in the 3rd district are eligible to vote in the second primary. Unaffiliated voters in the district who did not vote in either the Democratic or Libertarian primary on April 30 also are eligible, according to the state elections board.

The endorsements of Giuliani and Gingrich underscore how pitched the primary fight has become in the reliably Republican district. Murphy has touted endorsements from House Freedom Caucus leaders Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio as well as former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Perry is backed by all 13 GOP women in the U.S. House, as well as Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Reps. George Holding and Patrick McHenry of North Carolina are supporting Perry. Jones’ widow, Joe Anne, also weighed in, touting Perry’s candidacy — without offering a formal endorsement.

Outside groups have taken out negative ads on each side of the race, including Winning For Women, a super PAC dedicated to electing Republican women to Congress. The new PAC has spent nearly $900,000 on behalf of Perry, its inaugural foray into campaigns. It has taken out two ads hitting Murphy and spent money on digital advertising, mailers and get out the vote operations.

“It’s still kind of unclear why in their minds Murphy is more conservative than she is. His record doesn’t match up with Freedom Caucus positions,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, communications director for Winning For Women. “Given that, it is disappointing. There’s no real reason to not back Joan. Oftentimes women get painted as more moderate even if their record indicates otherwise.”

The Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, backed Perry, and its partner PAC, Women Speak Out, spent $314,000 in independent expenditures on behalf of Perry.

Meadows said he is backing Murphy because of his record on cutting taxes and his conviction that Murphy will be a fighter in DC.

“Having talked to both candidates, I made the best choice for someone who believes in limited government and wants to make sure the forgotten man and woman is represented,” Meadows said.

Early voting

The 3rd Congressional District includes parts or all of 17 counties. In the initial primary, more than 44 percent of Murphy’s votes came from Pitt County. Murphy, who lives in Greenville, also won in neighboring Beaufort County as well as Carteret and Chowan.

Perry’s biggest vote total came from Lenoir County, where she won more than a quarter of her votes. She also earned narrow wins in five other counties.

In April, 42,330 voters cast ballots in the Republican primary.

For the runoff, 10,535 votes were cast in in-person early voting, according to the state elections board. Of those, 2,390 came from Pitt County. Only five other counties recorded more than 414 votes in one-stop voting: Craven (1,419 votes), Carteret (1,213), Lenoir (1,124), Onslow (1,064) and Beaufort (1,009).

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.