North Carolina was in the cross-hairs of public attention last night for three primary battles, two of which did not involve American Idol season two runner-up Clay Aiken.
Walter Jones has represented the North Carolina coast and the 3rd congressional district for nearly 20 years, yet had to defeat a rare establishment-funded primary challenge from a K Street veteran of the George W. Bush White House. Jones’s district includes Camp Lejune’s 40,000 Marines, and the fiercely patriotic representative went so far as to push for french fries to be renamed freedom fries when France refused to support the Iraq War. Yet, as Jim Antle detailed in this year’s January/February issue of the print magazine, Jones was one of the very first Republicans to turn against the war when he lost faith in the pretext he had been given. Since then, he may have been the most fiercely outspoken opponent of the Iraq war on either side of the aisle. This may help explain why Emergency Committee for Israel and Ending Spending, two large establishment GOP organizations, dropped a combined $1,000,000 into the race, half supporting his challenger, half hitting Jones. Despite their efforts, however, Jones was able to convince his constituents to let him keep working for them:
Walter Jones literally campaigned against Christopher Hitchens. Awesome. pic.twitter.com/Hq9fMuFQTG
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) May 7, 2014
The more prominent of the GOP’s primary battles involved the race to challenge vulnerable first-term Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan for the state’s junior senate seat. Thom Tillis was the race’s clear party favorite, the speaker of the house who presided over an unprecedented consolidation of Republican power in Raleigh after the 2010 tidal wave gave the GOP super-majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. Tillis received a steady and significant infusion of outside assistance in recent weeks from Karl Rove and other establishment GOP groups intent on keeping their man out of a messy run-off election should he not receive 40 percent of the vote. He proudly advertised his endorsements from Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush on his homepage as of election night.
Tillis received an unexpectedly strong challenge from a Tea Party upstart, obstetrician Greg Brannon, who was endorsed by Rand Paul and Mike Lee, and received a last-minute visit from Paul the day before the election. Yet, as Jim Antle chronicled last week, Brannon’s business fraud charges, 9/11 truther complications, and website plagiarism sabotaged his own effort to follow in Rand Paul’s footsteps. Tillis made his own significant gaffes as well, such as when the Maryland native referred to grilling as a barbecue:
— Thom Tillis (@thomtillis) February 12, 2014
Tillis compounded the error when he coyly refused to identify his favorite barbecue at a debate (the state is split between Eastern-style and Lexington-style), despite representing a district firmly within Lexington (the correct choice) territory. Perhaps Hagan will be able to capitalize on the error where Brannon fell short.