Politics & Government

Republican doctor Greg Murphy wins Eastern North Carolina’s 3rd District

Republican state Rep. Greg Murphy is headed to Congress.

Murphy, a Greenville urologist, coasted to victory in Tuesday’s special election in Eastern North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District. He will finish the two-year term of the late Rep. Walter Jones, who died on Feb. 10.

With all election precincts reporting unofficial results, Murphy defeated Democrat Allen Thomas by 62%-37%. Libertarian Tim Harris and Constitution Party candidate Greg Holt were both at less than 1%.

Even before most of those results were posted, state Republican officials declared victory for Murphy.

“Congratulations to Dr. Greg Murphy for a strong victory! Dr. Murphy ran a fantastic campaign focused on his support for the families, farmers, and small businesses in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District,” state party chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing the positive results he will produce for eastern North Carolina in Congress.”

Thomas, in a telephone interview after most of the results had come in, said he ran a strong campaign in a gerrymandered district and he was proud of those who supported him and worked for him.

“We ran a positive, first-class campaign that focused on truth and fundamentals and disregarding partisanship, and made it all about the future of Eastern North Carolina,” Thomas said. “That’s the same message that I would carry if we started this race over again tomorrow.”

The results reflected a turnout of 24%, lower than what Jones received running unopposed in 2018.

Walter Jones’ seat

Jones and his father represented the area for almost all of the previous 56 years.

Jones, a Republican, represented the district since 1995. His father, Walter B. Jones, Sr., represented much of the area as a Democrat from 1966 until his death in 1992. Democrat Eva Clayton represented the district for one two-year term in 1993 and ‘94.

Backed by U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Murphy has pledged to be a fierce supporter and defender of President Donald Trump, whom he called a “bold man” who has restored the principles of God, country and family.

Trump twice stumped for Murphy in the state and brought him on stage at rallies in Greenville in July and Fayetteville on Monday night.

“We are here to serve you. We are here to help our president. And we are here to keep America great,” Murphy told the crowd at Fayetteville’s Crown Expo Center on Monday night during Trump’s rally.

It is a contrast with Jones, who became an outsider in his final years in Congress for repeatedly voting against his caucus. Jones, a fierce critic of rising deficits, voted against Trump more than any other Republican member of the House, according to data compiled by FiveThirtyEight.com.

But Trump carried the sprawling district, which includes parts or all of 17 counties, by more than 23 points in 2016, and few Republicans have found electoral success by creating distance between themselves and the president.

On his platform page, Murphy wrote: “I will support the Trump agenda because it is the people’s agenda, especially Eastern North Carolina that voted so overwhelming in his favor.”

Murphy is expected to join the House Freedom Caucus.

How Murphy got here

Murphy was appointed to the NC House in 2015 and won elections in 2016 and 2018. He was co-sponsor of state bills in 2017 and 2019 that would have expanded health care coverage to lower-income North Carolina residents. He said it was not Medicaid expansion, though some conservative critics, including Republican rival Joan Perry, called it “expansion of Medicaid by another name.”

Murphy removed his name from the 2019 bill this summer. He said as a congressman he would support federal block grants of Medicaid to the states. Murphy, on his platform page, said he would “do everything possible to dismantle any remnants” of the Affordable Care Act.

Allowing the states to expand Medicaid is part of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

Murphy topped a 17-candidate field in the first primary in April, earning 22.5% of the vote. But it was not enough for him to avoid a primary runoff against Perry in July. The primary split many Republicans with local and national figures entering the fray on both sides. Despite the financial backing of several outside groups hoping to elect Republican women, Perry was no match for Murphy, who won by nearly 20 points.

Thomas, a former mayor of Greenville and former executive director of Global TransPark in Kinston, won a six-way primary in April with 49.9% of the vote, avoiding a runoff. He tried to position himself as someone willing to “put North Carolinians before politics,” as he wrote on his website, which did not include the word Democrat.

He said the people of the district did not want a congressman who would “blindly follow” another politician. Thomas tried to make the diverting of millions of dollars from military installations in the district to instead fund Trump’s long-promised border wall a campaign issue.

A new battalion complex and ambulatory care center at Camp Lejeune ($40 million) and a storage facility for the new KC-46 tanker at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base ($6.4 million) are among the military projects listed as having funding moved to the wall.

“My job is to represent the people of the 3rd district. When that’s in accord (with President Trump), we can work together. When it’s in conflict, I’m going to look after the people in my district,” Thomas said on Monday.

The vacancy in the 3rd district is not the only one in the North Carolina delegation. The state board ordered a new election the 9th district after it found election fraud in the 2018 race. Republican Dan Bishop defeated Democrat Dan McCready in that closely watched race Tuesday.

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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.
Dan Kane began working for The News & Observer in 1997. He covered local government, higher education and the state legislature before joining the investigative team in 2009.