Politics & Government

An influential conservative group makes its pick in 17-way GOP primary in Eastern NC

Watch candidate Celeste Cairns’ ‘Gimme A Wall’ ad

Celeste Cairns is running for Congress in N.C.'s 3rd District to replace the late Walter Jones.
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Celeste Cairns is running for Congress in N.C.'s 3rd District to replace the late Walter Jones.

Republican Celeste Cairns nabbed a key endorsement just weeks before primary election day in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District.

The Club for Growth, an influential conservative group that promotes limited government, endorsed Cairns on Wednesday, less than two weeks before the April 30 primary. Cairns is one of 17 Republicans running to replace the late Rep. Walter Jones, who died on Feb. 10.

Club for Growth Action, one of the group’s political action committees, helped elevate Ted Budd over a crowded Republican field in 2016 in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District. Budd won the primary and is now in his second term in the U.S. House. Club for Growth Action spent $500,000 on television ads in 2016 on Budd’s behalf, The Charlotte Observer reported at the time.

McClatchy emailed to ask if the group would run ads on Cairns’ behalf but didn’t get a response.

Cairns graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in business administration. A certified public accountant, she worked for several firms doing consulting, auditing and accounting, according to her campaign website.

“Celeste Cairns’ background in the private sector gives her insight into how the economy works and the burden government regulations place on businesses and families,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement. “In Congress, she will fight for economic freedom by championing lower taxes and lower spending, eliminating government red tape, enacting term-limits and reducing Big Government’s footprint.”

Cairns lives in Carteret County with her husband, a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer who works for the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune. Among the top issues listed on her website are making the 2017 tax cuts permanent and reducing regulations.

“I am honored to have earned the esteemed endorsement of Club for Growth, an organization that is deeply committed to limiting the size of government and advancing pro-growth conservative economic policies,” Cairns said in a statement. “As the next representative for the 3rd District, I will put my experience as a CPA to work and fight tirelessly for lower taxes and free-market principles to unleash our nation’s full economic potential.”

In late March, Cairns released a 30-second television ad to air weekly on Fox News. The ad, called “Gimme A Wall,” highlighted her support for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I want protection for our borders, the Constitution, religious liberty and life — the shared values that made America the greatest country in the world,” she said in the ad.

The winner of the primary must receive more than 30 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off. If no run-off is needed among the Republicans or Democrats, which have six candidates, then the general election will be July 9. If a run-off is needed, it will be held July 9 and the general election will be Sept. 10. Early voting began April 10 and ends April 24.

Cairns is one of three women in the Republican field. Michele Nix, former vice chairwoman of the NC GOP, and Joan Perry, a pediatrician, are also in the field. Perry is backed by the Susan B. Anthony List, a organization that opposes abortion. Its Women Speak Out PAC is spending $75,000 on Perry’s behalf, including on digital ads.

The other candidates in the Republican field are state Reps. Michael Speciale, Greg Murphy and Phil Shepard; Phil Law, Gary Ceres, Chimer Davis Clark, Jr., Graham Boyd, Paul Beaumont, Jeff Moore, Kevin Baiko, Francis X. De Luca, Eric Rouse, Don Cox and Mike Payment.

The 3rd Congressional District covers parts or all of 17 counties in Eastern North Carolina. Jones, a Republican, represented the district from 1995 until his death earlier this year.

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.