GOP Establishment Readying New Primary Challenge for Dovish Rep. Walter Jones

Republicans in North Carolina and D.C. think they’ve found a candidate to beat Walter Jones: a retired brigadier general with nearly three decades of Army experience.

Rep. Walter Jones
National Journal
June 1, 2015, 10:22 a.m.

The Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment is ready to take an­oth­er crack at un­seat­ing Rep. Wal­ter Jones—and it might have found a new can­did­ate to lead the charge.

An­thony Tata, the Re­pub­lic­an sec­ret­ary of trans­port­a­tion in North Car­o­lina and a vet­er­an with nearly three dec­ades of mil­it­ary ex­per­i­ence, is pre­par­ing to run in a primary against the long­time GOP House mem­ber, ac­cord­ing to a half-dozen sources with know­ledge of the planned cam­paign. One source close to Tata, gran­ted an­onym­ity to speak can­didly, said the sec­ret­ary is “ser­i­ously look­ing” at a cam­paign but cau­tioned there was not yet a timetable for his de­cision.

His can­did­acy would be the latest Re­pub­lic­an ef­fort to de­feat Jones, a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure with­in the GOP who has spoken out force­fully against the Ir­aq war and for­eign aid to Is­rael. His dovish views have ali­en­ated him from House GOP lead­er­ship and the party’s for­eign policy hawks. Dur­ing Jones’s 2014 cam­paign, a pair of Re­pub­lic­an out­side groups, End­ing Spend­ing Fund and Emer­gency Com­mit­tee for Is­rael, com­bined to spend more than $1 mil­lion try­ing to de­feat the in­cum­bent in his primary.

(RE­LATED: Chuck Schu­mer Wants Kay Hagan Back

Jones, who rep­res­ents the heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an 3rd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict along North Car­o­lina’s east­ern shore, barely squeaked by with 51 per­cent of the primary vote against former George W. Bush aide Taylor Griffin. A primary against Tata could be more dif­fi­cult: The GOP base has grown in­creas­ingly hawk­ish dur­ing the rise of IS­IS and Pres­id­ent Obama’s nuc­le­ar-arms ne­go­ti­ations with Ir­an, so much so that polls show for­eign policy now ranks among Re­pub­lic­ans’ top is­sues.

And Tata has a back­ground that could cause trouble for the an­ti­war Jones—who last week voted against the USA Free­dom Act, the House’s com­prom­ise bill to ex­tend cer­tain pro­vi­sions of the Pat­ri­ot Act—in a Re­pub­lic­an primary. A gradu­ate of the U.S. Mil­it­ary Academy, Tata served nearly three dec­ades in the Army, in­clud­ing a tour of duty in Afgh­anistan, be­fore re­tir­ing as a bri­gadier gen­er­al. Even while act­ing as North Car­o­lina’s trans­port­a­tion sec­ret­ary, he has been a reg­u­lar guest on the con­ser­vat­ive talk-ra­dio cir­cuit to dis­cuss for­eign policy.

His al­lies say the sec­ret­ary’s ex­per­i­ence makes him the ideal can­did­ate for 2016.

“He has seen firsthand—in the field—what it takes to de­feat ter­ror­ists like IS­IS and al-Qaida,” said Carter Wrenn, a long­time Re­pub­lic­an strategist in North Car­o­lina who is ad­vising Tata. “Right now, that’s the kind of lead­er­ship we need in Con­gress. I hope he will de­cide to run.”

Re­pub­lic­an an­ti­pathy for Jones goes deep­er than just the for­eign policy es­tab­lish­ment: In 2013, he helped or­gan­ize an ef­fort to oust John Boehner as speak­er. That move came after GOP lead­er­ship re­moved Jones from his post on the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee in 2012, os­tens­ibly be­cause he hadn’t raised enough money for the party.

(RE­LATED: Con­ser­vat­ive Group Launches Ads Against Re­pub­lic­ans

Tata, however, might not have Jones to him­self.

Sources close to Griffin say they “fully ex­pect” him to run again, not­ing that he nearly de­feated Jones the first time and that it of­ten takes two tries to knock off an in­cum­bent. New­comers to the primary, the source ad­ded, will have a dif­fi­cult time in­tro­du­cing them­selves to all corners of a sprawl­ing con­gres­sion­al dis­trict.

But Tata might have one key ad­vant­age: Many Re­pub­lic­ans watch­ing the po­ten­tial primary match­up sug­ges­ted that he, not Griffin, would be the pre­ferred choice of many donors and out­side groups. “Tata is viewed as a more ser­i­ous can­did­ate than Griffin, and he prob­ably will end up with more in­sti­tu­tion­al and es­tab­lish­ment sup­port in the party than Griffin,” said one un­aligned Re­pub­lic­an who has met with Tata about a pos­sible run. “The big ques­tion is does Griffin step down, or does he fight this out?”

(RE­LATED: Vul­ner­able GOP Sen­at­ors Bra­cing for ‘Polit­ic­al Is­sue of the Year’

A fight between Griffin and Tata might be a best-case scen­ario for Jones, who could then watch two es­tab­lish­ment-friendly can­did­ates split the anti-in­cum­bent vote between them.

One former Jones strategist, Bob Ross­er, said he had heard ru­mors about Tata’s pos­sible can­did­acy. They didn’t sur­prise him.

“He’s had primar­ies be­fore, and he had a tough one last time,” Ross­er said. “But [Jones] came out a lot bet­ter any­body prob­ably ex­pec­ted.”

This story has been up­dated with ad­di­tion­al in­form­a­tion about Taylor Griffin’s plans.

Jack Fitzpatrick contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
PELOSI PROMISES EMPHASIS ON VOTING RIGHTS
Fudge Backs Pelosi for Speaker
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Rep. Marcia Fudge announced she would support Nancy Pelosi for speaker, just days after saying she might challenge the California Democrat. ... Fudge said Pelosi had promised her an opportunity to work to protect voting rights and assured her that “'the most loyal voting bloc in the Democratic party, Black women, will have a seat at the decision-making table.'” Fudge's move makes it unclear who might challenge Pelosi, even given the opposition to her among some in the Democratic caucus.

Source:
"RUSSIA-RELATED" TOPICS
Trump Submits Answers to Mueller Questions
4 hours ago
THE LATEST
The president "has submitted his written answers to questions related to the Russia investigation to special counsel Robert Mueller, the president's legal team announced Tuesday." His attorney Jay Sekolow, said in a statement that Trump "answered written questions submitted by The Special Counsel's office. The questions presented dealt with issues regarding the Russia-related topics of the inquiry. The president responded in writing."
Source:
MCGAHN BALKED
Trump Sought DOJ Charges Against Clinton, Comey
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump told the White House counsel in the spring that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute two of his political adversaries: his 2016 challenger, Hillary Clinton, and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with the conversation. The lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, rebuffed the president, saying that he had no authority to order a prosecution."

Source:
FOUNDATION FOR ACCOUNTABILITY AND CIVIC TRUST
Whittaker's Disclosures Show $1.4 Million from Conservative Activist Group
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Justice Department today released Matthew Whitaker's required disclosure forms. Among the juiciest bits: "From October 2014 until September 2017, when he joined the Justice Department, Whitaker worked as the executive director of Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a right-leaning nonprofit that called during his tenure for investigations into Democrats including U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Joaquin Castro. Whitaker’s reports showed he earned $904,000 (reported when he joined Main Justice) and $502,000 (reported this year) in income from the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust."

Source:
"THE WORLD IS A DANGEROUS PLACE"
Trump Defends Saudi Arabia After Khashoggi Killing
8 hours ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login