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February 7, 2016

Will Walter Jones Be the First Incumbent to Fall?

A conservative outside group is targeting Jones. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A well-funded conservative outside group is devoting significant money to an attempt to make North Carolina GOP Rep. Walter B. Jones the first incumbent to fall this cycle, but Republicans in the state are skeptical the sudden burst of spending will ultimately be enough to take Jones out.

With the investment by Ending Spending Action Fund, a super PAC formed by TD Ameritrade Founder Joe Ricketts, Jones faces what will likely end up being the best-financed primary opposition of his 20-year congressional tenure. The group reported last week spending $156,000 on an ad attacking Jones, one of the last remaining Republicans from the class of 1994, for his “liberal” voting record and for “losing his North Carolina values.”

It’s a significant ad buy in the 3rd District, located along the Tar Heel State’s coast. But while Republican strategists say the outside money may give Jones his most competitive challenge to date, they also downplay Jones’ chances for defeat in the May 6 primary.

“People see the money, people see the outside spending, they see who is spending from the outside — you have Joe Ricketts’ PAC, which is a recognizable name — and they see that and think [Jones] is vulnerable,” said one unaffiliated Republican operative. “But I just think Walter’s entrenched in that district. Walter’s father was a congressman from that district before him, and I just don’t see him as being vulnerable.”

Jones’ top primary challenger is Taylor Griffin, a former aide to President George W. Bush and operative at the communications firm Hamilton Place Strategies. He moved back to North Carolina to challenge the incumbent and has criticized Jones for his conservative credentials.

Jones entered the election year with $127,000 in cash on hand — a meager war chest when compared to the might of the super PAC’s capabilities. The group spent $13 million last cycle, mostly to assist Republicans in the presidential and Senate races, according to Political MoneyLine. Jones’ first-quarter fundraising report, due April 15 to the Federal Election Commission, will shed light on whether he has picked up the pace in the wake of the primary challenge.

Griffin reported just $87,000 in cash on hand by the end of last year, which doesn’t provide him with much to introduce himself to voters in his own advertising — a crucial component to go along with the outside help. And unaffiliated North Carolina Republicans noted that Griffin’s D.C. background — his recent move to the district and the Capitol Hill fundraiser headlined by a scroll of D.C.-based Republican operatives — could prove to be an issue for him in the race.

Still, they added that if the money keeps flowing into the district, Jones will have to quickly come up with the funds to defend himself in the six-week run-up to the primary.

“It’s going to be a tough sell to say Walter Jones doesn’t have North Carolina values, but if they have money it will be real,” North Carolina Republican operative Carter Wrenn said.

Jones was elected as a Republican to the 3rd District in 1994 after failing two years earlier as a Democrat to succeed his father, Democratic Rep. Walter Jones Sr., in the 1st District. He has since built a brand as a social and fiscal conservative. His turn against the Iraq War invited a competitive 2008 primary challenger, but Jones vastly outspent him and won with 59 percent of the vote.

The incumbent’s votes over a 10-term career don’t put him squarely within any sortable group of members on Capitol Hill, something Republicans say could actually help him in a district with a strong libertarian lean.

“Walter Jones has been a household name for 50-plus years, so it’s a tall order in any stretch of imagination,” said another unaffiliated Republican operative in the state. “He’s been his own guy. If you ask about Walter Jones, people say he’s very much a social conservative and he does take stands sometimes that defy conventional political thinking. But people respect him for his reasons behind them all.”

Correction 1:55 p.m.

The story originally stated Jones succeeded his father. He was elected in a neighboring district.

  • Rob_Chapman

    In 1994, Jones succeeded his father, former Democratic Rep. Walter Jones Sr., and has since built a brand as a social and fiscal conservative. His turn against the Iraq War invited a competitive 2008 primary challenger, but Jones vastly outspent him and won with 59 percent of the vote.

    Apparently, the NC 3rd is one of the places in the USA where dynasticism remains a decisive political factor.

  • Robert M. McAdam

    And, of course, Mr. Jones III or some relative will have to replace Mr. Jones, II.

  • philduncan

    In the last graf, is the word that should be used “defy,” not “divide”?
    “If you ask about Walter Jones, people say he’s very much a social conservative and he does take stands sometimes that [defy] divide conventional political thinking.”

  • Sally Smith

    Not exactly. Jones, Jr. lost the Democratic primary to succeed his father in NC’s first district in 1992. In 1994, he ran as a Republican in the adjacent third district and was elected.

  • rdcress

    Jones has an outstanding conservative record according to the only rating index I recommend – The New American Freedom Index. Jones is out of favor with the RINO and Neo-con Republicans because he votes against bigger government and an interventionist foreign policy ( although he had to learn the hard way on Iraq). NC voters need to beware of those crying conservative and yet taking money from big pacs like Harris, Tillis, Ellmers, etc.

  • LPetrou

    does anyone else find it ironic that a group named “ending spending action fund” is spending money to defeat a conservative congressman?

  • ConstitutionalRepublican

    Walter B Jones is my third favorite sitting Congressman [behind Thomas Massie (R- KY) and Justin Amash (R-MI)] and he rocks.

    He spoke to the national convention for Young Americans for Liberty this past summer and he had 300 of the nation’s most fervent young conservative leaders on their feet cheering multiple times. He’s a great man and great advocate for us. I’m proud to have him has my representative and resent these attacks by the Machiavellian Straussians (neo-conservatives) led by Karl Rove and his ilk attempting to chastise his conservative principles.

    -Jeremy D. Adams
    Chairman, Outer Banks Young Professional Republicans

  • ConstitutionalRepublican

    They don’t want to end spending, they just want it to go to their own special interests (central bankers and defense contractors).

  • Travis Adams

    And Jones, Sr. was a Democrat who had somewhat different views than his son. Its 25 years, he’s running his own brand now.

  • ConstitutionalRepublican

    The New American is outstanding.

    Congressmen Jones also topped the charts with the FreedomWorks rankings.

  • cooldela1966

    I live in Walter Jones’ district and have never heard of his opponent. I find it hard to believe that the voters will renounce Walter and his service for someone who shows up out of nowhere to challenge him.

  • Jacques

    Both words work, but divide is inelegant and clumsy. I like your word choice much better. Far clearer and more effective, but then we see what the public education system has been giving us for journalists these days. I’d accuse the writer of being a UNC athlete but then she couldn’t have even read the article much less write it.

  • Raphael Semmes

    This is clearly a false front Wall Street Insider group. Ending Spending’s president is a former Bob Dole advisor, and that speaks volumes, even without getting into the fact that Ricketts’ daughter is a lesbian activist and Obama bundler. The most money they spent in 2012 outside of Ricketts’ home state was to back Jeff Flake in Arizona. Flake had a hard fought primary with a more conservative candidate. Flake has not only voted with the establishment on budget / spending / debt issues but he is a member of the Gang of 8 trying to ram amnesty for illegal aliens down our throats.

    Walter Jones is one of the most consistent budget hawks and immigration hawks in Congress, one of only two House members to vote on all votes includinging procedural on the latest Boehner debt sellout, and the highest rated Congressman in North Carolina by Numbers USA, the anti-amnesty group.

  • Raphael Semmes

    Jones is also tops in North Carolina with Numbers USA, the group fighting against amnesty for illegal aliens. This and the fact that Jones is one of the most consistent budget hawks in Congress, is probably why these Wall Street insiders want him gone.

    The carpetbagger they parachuted in, Taylor Griffin, had never even lived in the 3rd district until he moved here last year to challenge Jones. He is clearly a beltway insider who would be nothing but a Boehner brownnoser. Walter Jones knows how to say ”no” to the beltway elite including Weepy Boehner.

    Walter is now running ads supporting him featuring Mrs. Jesse Helms talking about Walter’s conservative record. I suspect that local voters are much more likely to believe the widow of Senator Helms than some anonymous announcer from an outside Wall Street group they have never heard of.

  • Raphael Semmes

    I don’t know of anyone in the Jones family that is even interested. Even if they would, that would be preferable to electing a beltway toady like this Taylor Griffin dude who has never even lived in the 3rd district until he moved her last year to run for Congress. A Washington beltway insider is absolutely the last person I would ever vote for to represent me.

  • Raphael Semmes

    You are correct that nobody ever heard of Taylor Griffin, and the reason is obvious. Griffin never lived in the 3rd district until his beltway insider handlers parachuted him into the 3rd district last year to challenge Jones.

  • Raphael Semmes

    This writer not only failed to pick up that ”Ending Spending” is a false flag ”conservative” group, but that a genuine conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, has been running ads supporting Jones.

  • UnaffiliatedVoter


  • rdcress

    I’ll take Jones any day based on his voting record. That’s the only criteria for judging an incumbent. Rhetoric and accusations are what low-information and no-information voters rely on. Sadly those types come from both sides of the aisle. This is a very good index on both houses since it uses the same criteria – spending and specific constitutional authorization. This rating system has been in place for many years and until recent suppression laws ushered in to silence the individual and small groups, published a district specific flyer containing the same information. The politicians hated them because constitutions would show up at campaign events with the politicians undeniable record in hand. Puts a real crimp on a politicians lies, misrepresentations, and subterfuge.

  • Jose Rodriguez

    As with liberty, the benefits of democratic processes are revealed over the long term.

  • William Oliver

    I also live in the 3rd District. These people are helping, not hurting, Jones. These ads won’t affect the primaries, but they will reinforce his claim of being an “independent” thinker in the general election. It will make him more palatable to left-leaning moderates who were thinking about voding Democrat.

    Jones couldn’t have asked for better help in the general election.

  • Pale Ryder

    In contrast to socialist ideologues, individualist philosophers searched for ideas and institutions that would motivate individuals to voluntarily unleash their maximum potential.

  • Rob_Chapman

    Jones Sr., Jones Jr. only the most naive or ingenuous would call the party switch a brand change.

  • Rob_Chapman

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment, but I feel that your view is blinkered and unrepublican.

    Please note that I used a small “r” in the word republican.

    Passing offices down from father to son is a dynastic, almost royalist practice, and unrepublican.

    There are plenty of other opportunities for the scions of families with the influence to elect their members to Congress.

    It is a bitterly ironic that at a time when many conservatives favor term limits, this loophole should persist.

  • Fart Johnson

    Every rinky dink town in Jones’ district from Burgaw to Moyock has a building or park with his name on it. There isn’t enough DC money to compete with that level of name recognition.

  • cwellis

    The office wasn’t passed down. Walter ran in a different district and won on his own rights.

    And if you want an example of “families with the influence to electi their own member of Congress,” talk to the Ricketts clan.

  • Rob_Chapman

    All of them should go.

    There is no reason that political offices should become multi-generational.

  • tanksdad

    And there is no reason why it should not be multigenerational either. By your logic, children of politicians must forego running for office themselves? That’s not very (lower case) republican, either. Last I checked the people voted Jones into office, not his father deeming him so.

  • Rob_Chapman

    Yes, children of politicians should either move to other places or go into other businesses.

    The Roman Republic limited its counselship to one one year term per Senator.

    The very idea of small r republicanism is to limit the ability for cliques, juntas and dynasties to take over the government.

    It is idiotic to make this some sort of affirmative action issue. The children of politicians have enormous advantages in seeking employment in other fields, there is no reason that they should be given the added advantage of daddy’s political machine operating directly for their benefit when they seek public office.

    How can anyone make a credible complaint about lobbyists or entrenched interests when one is open to stark nepotism?

  • tanksdad

    “children of politicians should either move to other places or go into other businesses.” You mean ‘should’ as in forced? Wrong in so many ways, Caesar.

  • Sinpusher

    Jones has been marked for elimination by the Israel-Uber-Alles gang. The question is, will the voters stand up for him, or for their AIPAC masters?

  • Rob_Chapman

    Are you able to read English?
    Shall means forced, should means preferred.
    Again, the irony of a party which advocates term limits supporting nepotism is extraordinary, and unfortunately, all too typical.

  • tanksdad

    Oh, you prefer they not run as a legacies. Gotcha. You seemed to come across as it should be a law. In that case, I can agree with you, but then again, it really is up to the voters, right? I mean, Walter is a repub and Big Walter was a Demo. Not exactly a crown handed down there.

  • Rob_Chapman

    Sorry I was unclear earlier, and thanks for your persistence in clarifying matters.

    Been a pleasure exchanging messages and making your aquaintance, tanks.

    Live and be well. :)

  • Carol

    Walter jones is an ineffective congressman that has zero power in Washington DC after 20 years. He talks mostly about the wars in Iraq and spending on the wars. I agree with that issue but Eastern NC has serious problems, issues that have needed a congressman that can get a bill passed and have enough respect to be a leader. Walter is a nice man but politics is not his strength, this country has real problems, Eastern NC has an inlet that Walter has gotten tens of millions to dredge but hasn’t gotten it stabilized, a bridge to Hatteras island that is one of the worst bridges in the country if not the world ! Fishing industry that has taken hit after hit with regulations… On and on… Walter it’s time to retire and take your pay for the rest of your life and relax.

  • Carol

    Walter jr is nothing like Walter Sr. To vote for a man just because his father was a wonderful politician is beyond hard to understand. Ask yourself this, what has Walter jr gotten done in Eastern NC? 40 years of totally ignored beaches of the Outer banks, closed beaches due to bird eggs, can you imagine that Hatteras island beaches being closed when Walter Sr was in office? No way, he would have fought hard against it. Over 40 years of gross negligence regarding beaches and erosion, yet hundreds of millions to continue to dredge an inlet without having the power to fix it? He just asked for more millions to dredge the inlet while Hatteras island is washing away without a safe or secure highway or bridge to the mainland. Fishing industry bogged down with regulations, take care of your district first, we need a congressman that is respected and has the power to get issues resolved.

  • BAW

    Well you tried. “A well-funded conservative outside group” which was actually a well-funded establishment Republican group. Does it not bother you when you use the tactic’s of the left? Or am I going to be forced to accept that establishment Republicans are absolutely no different from establishment Democrats, just not quite as bad? That is truly disturbing.

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