Quirky Republican Returning to Congress

Walter Jones, the dovish libertarian Republican, overcame a tough primary challenge to win the GOP nomination in his North Carolina district Tuesday night.

Chris Kleponis/Reuter

Perhaps the quirkiest Republican in Congress won re-election Tuesday night. Incumbent Rep. Walter Jones fended off a primary challenge from Taylor Griffin, a longtime GOP apparatchik, who worked for Jesse Helms and in the George W. Bush administration in his deep-red district along North Carolina’s coast.

Jones is a second-generation congressman, first elected in 1994, who has become perhaps the most dovish Republican in Congress over the past decade. Although the idiosyncratic Jones was once so pro-Iraq war that he led the charge to rename french fries as “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria 10 years ago, he soon became a vocal opponent after deciding that the Bush administration has misled the American people about the march to war. Since then Jones has repeatedly voted against funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a stance which has made him a target for primary challenges in a congressional district that includes Camp Lejeune.

The incumbent Republican was a target of pro-Israel groups upset about his dovishness as well as mainstream GOP groups who disdained him for his affiliation with the libertarian, Ron Paul-affiliated wing of the party. While Jones was a weak campaigner, he was helped by his long tenure in office, strong constituent services, and that voters remembered Walter Jones Sr., his father, who was a longtime incumbent in much of the district.

Jones, who faced a tough primary challenge in 2008, only managed a narrow victory over Griffin of about 51-45 (less than 3,000 votes in this low-turnout election) and seems likely to face further primary contests in years to come for his deviations from party orthodoxy. In the meantime, the 71-year-old wine salesman is back on Capitol Hill for two more years.