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Undeterred by Primary Threats, Walter Jones to Seek 12th Term

A conservative outside group is targeting Jones. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
A conservative outside group is targeting Jones. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., has no plans to retire in 2016, when Republicans are likely plotting another primary to oust the GOP gadfly.  

“Absolutely,” Jones told CQ Roll Call earlier this month about his re-election plans. “We had a fundraiser last night. We have a fundraiser next Tuesday when I go to Farmville, [North Carolina].  

“I like to be a thorn in people’s ass,” he added.  

In 2014, Jones nearly lost his primary  to Taylor Griffin, a GOP operative and former aide to President George W. Bush. And on Capitol Hill, the outspoken 11-term Republican with libertarian leanings has few political allies left  in his party.  

Griffin declined to comment to CQ Roll Call about his future political plans. But nearly a half-dozen Tar Heel GOP operatives interviewed for this story said they expect Griffin to challenge Jones again in 2016.  

Last cycle, outside groups spent more than $1 million against Jones in the primary in the 3rd District, a safe seat for Republicans. The groups bashed Jones as an ineffective member who was “too liberal” for the district.  

Jones responded by stressing his ties to the coastal region. His father and namesake, Walter B. Jones, held the seat for 26 years, until 1992. After defecting from the Democratic Party, Jones followed his father and won the seat in the 1994 Republican wave.  

In 2014, Jones faced the toughest re-election battle of his career. He successfully painted Griffin as a carpetbagger , attacking his challenger for moving back to the district after a career in Washington, D.C.  

Jones ultimately limped to the nomination by a 6-point margin .  

GOP operatives said a second Jones and Griffin meeting will be different.  

Griffin, who was born and raised in the district, stayed in North Carolina after losing the primary last May. Tar Heel State GOP operatives say Griffin is attending local Republican Party events and building goodwill with party activists.  

Also, Griffin proved his mettle as a challenger by coming close to Jones last year. This cycle, GOP operatives say Griffin will have an easier time raising money and making a case for his candidacy.  

“He’s going to have the money, he’s been building an organization,” said one North Carolina Republican operative. “There’s a lot that Taylor learned. He’ll be sharper on the stump and better at retail politics.”  

Jones has not changed his voting patterns since the primary. He ranks among the members most likely to buck their party in CQ’s party unity scores .  

House Republican leadership passed over Jones for a subcommittee gavel on the House Armed Services Committee for his vocal critiques on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — despite Jones’ seniority. It’s an attack that could hurt Jones in this district, which includes one of the largest military bases in the country, Camp Lejeune.  

What’s more, Jones was one of 25 Republicans to vote against John A. Boehner for speaker in January — a choice that will not help his fundraising among his congressional colleagues.  

Jones finished 2014 with $125,000 in the bank. Griffin, if he decides on a bid, starts with nothing in the bank, according to a fundraising report with the Federal Election Commission.  

Whoever wins the Republican primary will keep this district in 2016. The 3rd District voted for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney with 59 percent in 2012.  

Matt Fuller contributed to this report.
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