Two first-time candidates, both Republican women, have attracted the majority of outside spending support in the crowded special election in Eastern North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District.
Celeste Cairns, an accountant from Emerald Isle, and Kinston pediatrician Joan Perry are among 17 Republican candidates vying to replace the late Rep. Walter Jones, who died in February. And despite their lack of name recognition or political experience in a field that includes six elected officials, Cairns and Perry have lapped the field in outside money.
The April 30 primary for Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians is expected to be a low-turnout contest. As of April 23, 13,515 votes had been cast in the primaries. Primary runoffs can be held if the top vote-getter does not eclipse 30 percent of the vote. The district, won by President Donald Trump with 60.5 percent of the vote in 2016 according to a Daily Kos analysis, is considered a safe Republican seat.
Cairns, 52, earned the endorsement of the Club for Growth, whose political action committee has backed her campaign with $58,643 in independent expenditures, according to the Federal Election Commission. Awake Carolina, a newly established PAC headed by individuals who worked for President Donald Trump, also poured in more than $104,000 on Carins’ behalf, most of it on advertising.
“Frankly, I’ve been disgusted with what I’ve seen mostly from the Democrats, but also some Republicans who seem to be a little squishy sometimes,” said Cairns, who touts herself as “the conservative choice.”
“I’m trying to be the conservative female voice that stands up to these radical policies. ... I’m looking forward to having (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) swear me in. I enjoy imagining that picture.”
Club for Growth and its Action Fund were instrumental in propelling Rep. Ted Budd to victory in a 17-way primary in North Carolina’s 13th District in 2016, investing $500,000 in TV ads on his behalf. Budd is now in his second term in the U.S. House.
Decided after abortion law
Perry, 61, is backed by the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and Winning for Women, a group that aims to elect more Republican women to Congress. There are 13 Republican women serving in the 435-member House of Representatives, including Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. There are 197 Republicans and three vacancies in the House, including the 3rd District which covers all or part of 17 counties across much of the eastern part of the state and Atlantic coast.
Perry said she has considered previous political runs, but her family situation allowed it this time. And after the January passage of a bill in New York that opponents contend will lead to more late-term abortion, Perry decided to run.
“It’s an issue I feel strongly about,” Perry said. “I feel like I can speak with a different sort of voice.”
Women Speak Out PAC, which is affiliated with the Susan B. Anthony List, has spent $60,000 on Perry’s behalf. Winning For Women has spent more than $165,000.
“The midterm elections presented a harsh truth – qualified Republican women will continue to fall through the cracks, particularly in primaries, unless they get the support they need from start to finish,” Rebecca Schuller, executive director of Winning For Women, said in a statement announcing its support of Perry. “NC-03 is our first opportunity to prove that Republicans are serious about playing in primaries to elect more women.”
Her donor list includes several notable names in business and politics: Ann Goodnight of SAS, Raleigh developer John Kane, former state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam; and several current and former UNC Board of Governors members: Steve Long, Anna Spangler Nelson, Louis Bissette and John Fennebresque.
Cairns said that electing more Republican women to Congress would be “helpful.” Former NCGOP vice chairwoman Michele Nix is also competing for the Republican nomination.
“We would like to take this narrative away from Democrats that there’s a war on women. It’s not true,” she said.
Lawmaker in fundraising lead
Three state lawmakers are in the Republican primary.
Rep. Greg Murphy has a large fundraising advantage over the field. Murphy, a Greenville urologist, raised $317,994 as of the April 10 filing deadline. He loaned his campaign $50,000.
His donor list includes a number of current and former state House members: Reps. John Fraley, Holly Grange, Craig Horn, Josh Dobson and Kevin Corbin; and former Reps. Leo Daughtry and John Bradford. UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith also donated to Murphy.
The two other legislators lagged in fundraising. Rep. Michael Speciale of New Bern reported raising $15,670. Rep. Keith Kidwell of Chocowinity was the only legislator who donated to him. Rep. Phil Shepard raised $70,500; Sen. Harry Brown, his fellow Jacksonville Republican, was the only lawmaker on his donor list.
Eric Rouse, a Lenoir County commissioner, raised $147,640, but he chipped in $101,740 of that total. Rep. Jason Saine of Lincolnton made a small contribution to Rouse.
Chimer Clark raised $111,520, nearly all of it ($80,000) from Clark himself.
Former Civitas Institute leader Francis De Luca’s donors included businessmen Bob Luddy and Stephen Stroud.
Former Pat McCrory staffer and blogger Jeff Moore benefited from $51,000 in independent expenditures from the Revive America PAC. The PAC spent on behalf of Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Republican Senate candidates Kelli Ward in Arizona and Roy Moore in Alabama in the 2018 cycle.
There are six Democratic candidates running for the nomination. Former Greenville mayor and former director of the Global Transpark Allen Thomas led the fundraising race with $255,390, which includes a $200,000 loan. Retired Marine pilot Richard Bew, who served as a legislative assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and has gotten attention in national media outlets including The New York Times, raised $124,513.
Jones, a Republican who often bucked his party over spending, held the seat from 1995 until his death on Feb. 10. Known for his excellent constituent services, Jones voted in 2002 for the Iraq War but soon began to regret the vote and worked to atone for it, including sending letters to the families of service members killed in the war. Jones, who won a three-way GOP primary in 2018, did not have a Democratic opponent in his final general election.
No one on the Republican side has picked up Jones’ mantle, said Carmine Scavo, an East Carolina University political science professor. Whereas Jones voted with the president less than any other Republican member of the House, according to 538.com, the GOP field has pledged support to Trump.
“No Republican candidate is saying, ‘I’m the Walter Jones of the future. I’m the heir to Walter Jones.’ No one is saying, ‘I’m an independent Republican.’ I thought that would be a much bigger thing in this primary,” Scavo said. “It’s the Democrats that are saying independent voice.”
Raised through April 10. Candidates who raise less than $5,000 do not have to report totals.
Ike Johnson: $16,229
Dana E. Outlaw: $18,353
Richard Bew: $124,513
Ernest T. Reeves: no report
Gregory Humphrey: no report
Allen Thomas: $255,390
Phil Law: $26,480
Michele Nix: $48,203
Michael Speciale: $15,670
Greg Murphy: $317,994
Gary Ceres: no report
Chimer Davis Clark, Jr.: $111,520
Graham Boyd: $48,592
Celeste Cairns: $75,099
Phil Shepard: $70,500
Paul Beaumont: no report
Jeff Moore: $104,781
Joan Perry: $154,345
Kevin Baiko: $4,750
Francis X. De Luca: $119,410
Eric Rouse: $147,640
Don Cox: $8,988
Mike Payment: no report
Greg Holt: no report
Shannon W. Bray: no report
Tim Harris: no report
Source: Federal Election Commission
About the election
Voter registration for the primary ended on April 5. Early voting ends on Friday, April 26. Primary election day is April 30.
Voters can only vote in the primary that corresponds with their registered party affiliation. Unaffiliated voters can chose to vote in one of the Democratic, Republican or Libertarian primaries. You must have registered as unaffiliated by December 1, 2018.
If a second primary is needed, it will be held July 9 and the general election will be Sept. 10. If no second primary is needed, the general election will be held July 9.
Go to vt.ncsbe.gov/PPLkup/ to find out where to vote.