North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District – Walter B. Jones (R)

Welcome to the second edition of the District Geography series, where we analyze the competitive districts in NC.  Today we’ll be looking at North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district.

The 3rd district is an eastern/coastal district that stretches from the Virginia state line all the way to downtown Wilmington. Walter B. Jones has represented the area since he was first elected in 1994. While a Republican, Jones receives relatively low ratings from groups like the American Conservative Union, and has not been afraid to go against the wishes of the party leadership. Congressional leaders recently punished him for his lack of cooperation by stripping him of committee assignments.
Jones is probably most known for his effort to rebrand French fries as “Freedom fries” in the midst of the Iraq War. But Jones later came out sharply against the war and became one of the Bush administration’s biggest critics on the Republican side. Recently, he made news for suggesting that Dick Cheney would be going to Hell for his role in the Iraq conflict.
This willingness to break from the Republican establishment, while infuriating to some conservatives, has endeared him to anti-establishment forces like the Tea Party, allowing him to overcome primary challenges from the right. But the biggest thing Jones has in his favor is his name. Jones’ father represented this area in Congress as a Democrat, serving from 1966 to 1992. Thus, for nearly half a century, residents here have been electing and reelecting a Jones to Congress. Voters may not always agree with Jones, and may not even know where he stands on certain issues, but those who have lived in this area for a long time are reluctant to give a pink slip to someone who has served them for so long.

Map of North Carolina's 3rd congressional district (2013 - present)

Map of North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district (2013 – present)

Republican Primary

This year, however, Jones faces his biggest threat yet in the form of Taylor Griffin, a former consultant and George W. Bush aide. Mainstream Republicans seem to have finally had enough of Jones, and appear committed to replacing Jones with a more reliable vote for the party’s agenda. Griffin has thus been well-funded, and has run ads calling the incumbent “the most liberal Republican in Congress”, which he says is unacceptable for someone representing Eastern North Carolina.  Jones has been forced to fight back with ads of his own, most notably one featuring an endorsement from Mrs. Jesse Helms.
Griffin’s task is to redefine Jones in the eyes of those who have voted for him many times in the past, to convince them that Jones is unacceptably liberal for such a conservative district. That’s a tall order, and the conventional wisdom seems to be that this seat belongs to Jones for as long as he wants it. Still, Griffin has an outside chance at victory, and in the absence of any public polling, one should be cautious in declaring Jones a sure winner. Griffin will almost certainly do better than Jones’ primary challenger in 2012, Frank Palombo, who received only 31% of the vote. Regardless, the odds favor Jones prevailing once again on May 6th.

General election

Either Jones or Griffin would be certain to beat Democrat Marshall Adame in November. Jones won in 2012 with 63% of the vote, the best performance of any Republican congressional candidate in the state.

Rep. Walter Jones
Taylor Griffin, consultant

Marshall Adame, consultant

Primary Rating: Leans Jones
District Rating: Solid Republican

Counties in district: Beaufort (part), Camden, Carteret, Chowan (part), Craven (part), Currituck, Dare, Gates (part), Greene (part), Hyde, Jones, Lenoir (part), Martin (part), New Hanover (part), Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank (part), Pender (part), Perquimans (part), Pitt (part), Tyrrell, Washington (part)

2012 Result
Walter B. Jones (R) – 63.1%
Erik Anderson (D) – 36.9%

Voter Registration
Democrat – 40.1%
Republican – 31.4%
Unaffiliated – 28.1%

White – 75.7%
Black – 19.1%
Other – 5.2%

Results in Other Elections

2012 President
58.0% Romney
41.0% Obama

2012 Governor
59.3% McCrory
38.2% Dalton

2010 Senate
61.3% Burr
36.6% Marshall

2008 Senate
50.8% Dole
46.0% Hagan

Related Article: “Will Walter Jones Be the First Incumbent to Fall?”