NC Republican pressed on Trump in primary showdown

NC Republican pressed on Trump in primary showdown
© Greg Nash

North Carolina Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesRepublican Greg Murphy wins special election in NC's 3rd District Early voting extended in NC counties impacted by Dorian ahead of key House race The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina special election poses test for GOP ahead of 2020 MORE (R) faces a competitive primary Tuesday from an opponent looking to frame Jones’s independent streak as evidence of disloyalty to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE.

Jones, a frequent thorn in the side of Republican leadership, has survived tough primaries before. Polling shows him ahead in the primary, which he says will mark his final reelection bid.

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But the GOP primary electorate’s ardent support for Trump has given his opponent, Craven County Commissioner Scott Dacey, a new opening to attack the longtime congressman for bucking the party on key votes on tax reform and ObamaCare repeal.

“It feels a little different. It seems a little closer than Congressman Jones’s races typically are. But in another way, it’s the same story on a different day, because he just has overwhelming name ID in that district,” said Donald Bryson, the president of the Civitas Institute, a North Carolina nonprofit that’s done independent polling on the race.

“People in rural areas feel like they’ve been flown over, been thumbed at in urban areas. When someone from here is willing to thumb their nose at leadership, the spark of independence is something they appreciate.”

Jones, who first won the seat in 1994, has regularly scored as one of the more bipartisan members of the House in recent years.

An early supporter of the Iraq War, Jones eventually became one of its most vocal Republican critics. He’s sought to rein in the president’s war powers, over the protests of hawks in both parties.

Jones regularly clashes with GOP leadership, both on legislation and on votes for Speaker. Jones didn’t back then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' MORE (R-Ohio) for the gavel in 2015, or Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea MORE’s (R-Wis.) bid that same year. Jones did back Ryan for Speaker in 2017.

The repercussions of those fights are clear in each candidate’s fundraising reports.

Jones has backing from other lawmakers who also relish a good scrap with leadership, while Dacey is supported by allies of the House Republican leadership.

BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' MORE himself is backing Dacey — the former House Speaker sent Dacey a $1,500 donation through his political action committee in the race’s final days.

Dacey also received endorsements from two lawmakers close to Ryan — California Reps. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate Issa says he will run for Congress if not confirmed to trade post by Nov. 3 The Hill's Campaign Report: Pressure builds for Democrats who missed third debate cut MORE (R) and Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesWe've lost sight of the real scandal Twitter won't disclose who's running parody accounts being sued by Devin Nunes Nunes campaign drops lawsuit against constituents who accused him of being a 'fake farmer' MORE (R).

Ryan’s political team has sent thousands of dollars to dozens of vulnerable incumbents — but hasn’t donated to Jones.

Jones, on the other hand, has the endorsement of House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan GOP struggles with retirement wave Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing MORE (R-N.C.), a vocal Trump supporter who also donated to Jones’s campaign.

Rep. Daniel WebsterDaniel Alan WebsterCongress can't even study gun violence unless it changes the law Judd Gregg: Pelosi's olive branch...sort of Lawmakers propose banning shark fin trade MORE (R-Fla.), who mounted an anti-establishment bid for Speaker in 2015, has also donated to Jones. So have Reps. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieScalise blasts Democratic legislation on gun reforms Airports already have plenty of infrastructure funding Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border MORE (R-Ky.) and Justin AmashJustin AmashTrump's 'soldier of fortune' foreign policy Amash: 'Bolton never should have been hired' Romney: Bolton firing 'a huge loss' for nation MORE (R-Mich.), two other lawmakers who regularly break with leadership.

While Jones has often faced primary criticism for his reluctance to toe the GOP line, Dacey has pressed a new opening against Jones now that Trump is in office. Dacey has tried to frame every major vote Jones took against GOP leadership as a vote against Trump’s agenda.

Dacey’s website has a section highlighting “Jones’ bad votes,” in which he slams Jones as a “roadblock to President Trump’s agenda.”

Dacey has seized on Jones’s votes against the tax-reform bill and the GOP ObamaCare repeal plan.

Jones has longed criticized government spending, and opposed the process used to find a GOP replacement for ObamaCare. But Dacey and his allies have framed Jones’s vote against ObamaCare repeal as a vote for obstructing the Trump agenda.

“When you’ve got a congressman who represents a district that voted over 23 points in favor of Donald Trump and that congressman votes against not just one of those issues, but all of them, to me, that speaks volumes about where we are headed and whether or not our representation is maybe out of alignment of where our values are as a community,” Dacey said in late March.

Jones’s allies say they believe that voters understand where the longtime congressman is coming from and want him to vote his conscience. They’ve also sought to attack Dacey for his past work as a lobbyist, attempting to accuse him of some Trump disloyalty of his own by accusing him of being late to join the Trump “bandwagon” himself.

The attacks have turned ugly, with the Dacey campaign accusing Jones in an ad of being “paid for by George Soros.”

That allegation stems from Friends of Democracy, a pro-campaign finance reform super PAC backed by Democratic mega-donor Jonathan Soros, the son of the billionaire financier George Soros, which supported Jones but never gave him any money.

The Jones campaign called the ad “intentionally false and misleading” in a cease-and-desist letter, according to the Raleigh News & Observer, but the Dacey campaign doubled down with a new ad that rehashes the accusations and added that “Jones admits he personally met with liberal billionaire Jonathan Soros to plot liberal votes in Congress.”

There’s been little public polling in the race, but late March polling from Civitas found Jones leading Dacey, 37 percent to 28 percent. A third candidate, combat veteran and 2016 Jones opponent Phillip Law, sat in third place with 15 percent of the vote.

It’s hard to predict primary races, where low turnout can challenge polls. But Jones’s team remains confident he’ll win the right to serve another two years in Congress.

“Walter goes to Food Lion once a week and he says that’s his polling,” Jones strategist Doug Raymond told The Hill, describing the congressman’s trips to the grocery store.

“He gets stopped in the vegetable aisle and someone either says, ‘Hey, you are doing a great job,’ or, ‘What are you thinking?’

“There are some things he still wants to do [in Congress]. I think he is a little sentimental.”