Walter Jones is the least likely Republican in Congress to vote in line with President Trump. The congressman’s chief primary election challenger, Scott Dacey, is campaigning on this independence from the president to unseat Jones on May 8.
“This district, which elected Donald Trump by over 23 points, deserves a congressman that reflects its interests, rather than somebody who’s going to vote against the President of the United States,” Dacey said.
Jones, who’s seeking his 13th term in office, has voted in accordance with President Trump’s stance on issues about 53 percent of the time. That’s less than any other Republican in the House or Senate.
The congressman is facing two Republican primary challengers in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District race. No Democrat is running this year, meaning whoever wins the primary election will likely take the seat. As of January, the 17-county district had 161,253 registered Republicans and 154,735 unaffiliated voters, who may cast their ballots in either party’s primary elections. Early voting ends on May 5, three days ahead of primary Election Day.
A poll released in early April by the conservative public policy organization Civitas shows Jones leading Dacey by nine percentage points, with 21 percent of respondents undecided.
In a potentially close primary race, Jones and Dacey, a Craven County commissioner, are receiving most of the attention. While Jones’s campaign is highlighting the congressman’s independence, Dacey is campaigning on a pro-Trump message. Both campaigns have launched numerous ads attacking one another. Jones’s campaign has criticized Dacey’s lobbying career. And Dacey’s campaign, which has outraised the congressman’s, has flooded the airwaves with ads attacking Jones’s voting record.
“It all started back in January 2017, when he voted against a budget resolution to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Dacey said. “That was kind of a seminal moment for the Trump administration when that legislation did pass, but it did so without Walter Jones’ support.”
Jones has voted against other pieces of Trump-backed legislation, including: a bill to dismantle Wall Street regulations imposed by the Dodd-Frank Act, the Republican tax plan and last year’s defense spending bill.
“The congressman that represents Eastern North Carolina needs to work harder to get to yes on matters involving the Trump agenda,” Dacey said.
Jones’s campaign spokesman, Doug Raymond, says these votes aren’t surprising, given Jones’s reputation for independence.
“When you’re willing to say – ‘I’m not up there to serve the Republican Party, I’m not up there to serve the lobbyists that are funneling money through Congress, I’m not up there to serve the establishment, I’m there to serve the people of my district’ – you’re going to have votes like that,” Raymond said.
When Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act late last year, Jones was the only Republican from a red state to vote against it. In a statement explaining his vote, Jones expressed concern over the rising national debt. In January, the Congressional Budget Office projected the tax bill would increase the deficit by $1.8 trillion over the next decade.
“For years, I have constantly sounded the alarm about the need to cut wasteful spending, balance the budget, and eliminate the massive debt that is bankrupting our nation,” Jones said in a release. “This is not just an economic issue, it’s a national security issue.”
The congressman’s independence has brought on many attempts from within his party to unseat him, said Doug Raymond, his campaign spokesman. In the last six elections, Jones has faced a primary challenger.
“This is Walter Jones’s last run for office,” Raymond said. “But if he ran for another 20 years, every two years they would line up somebody to run against him, and they would pour money into it because they just cannot stand to have an independent voice there that their money, that their lobbying, their influence does not affect.”
In 2014, Republican attempts to unseat Jones almost succeeded. That year, Taylor Griffin, who ran a well-funded primary campaign, came within seven points of defeating Jones.
"This race in 2018 with Scott Dacey being the chief competitor has all the earmarks of a similar issue in 2018 that we saw in 2014," said John Dinan, a political scientist at Wake Forest College. "If anything, Jones has become even less supportive of Republican priorities over the last four years, even more so than the last time that voters almost defeated him."
Note: Scott Dacey's wife, Jennifer Dacey, serves on Craven Community College's Board of Trustees, which owns Public Radio East's license.