Skip to comments.GOP congressman pays price for opposing war [ People Opening Their Eyes to RINO Walter Jones]
Posted on 08/23/2007 5:56:59 AM PDT by OBXFREEPER
GOP congressman pays price for opposing war By: Josh Kraushaar August 22, 2007 02:08 PM EST
NEW BERN, N.C -- Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) is a household name in this military-friendly district represented in Congress by his family -- first by his late father, a Democrat, and now by him -- for most of the past 40 years. Jones' folksy demeanor, commitment to constituent service and deeply Christian values made him virtually unbeatable since he won election to Congress in 1994.
Until two years ago, Jones was probably best known nationally for championing "freedom fries" to replace "french fries" in the House cafeteria -- a hit with the GOP's right-wing base.
But after co-sponsoring a measure with Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) in June 2005 calling for a time-certain troop withdrawal from Iraq, Jones began taking heat from many of those same supporters.
His U-turn on war policy attracted some unusual publicity for a press-shy conservative: an appearance on ABC News with Kucinich, long considered an anti-war bogeyman by the right, and a cover story in the liberal Mother Jones magazine.
Now, the consequences look more threatening. For the first time in more than a decade, Jones faces a serious primary challenger in Onslow County Commissioner Joe McLaughlin, a former Army Ranger, and their race will test how opposition to the Iraq war plays out in conservative and pro-military America.
Jones is not the only Republican to have broken with Bush on Iraq. Others, in more moderate, suburban districts, have also drawn primary challengers.
But in this eastern North Carolina district -- one which spans parts of the Outer Banks -- the conviction that patriotism means supporting even unpopular wars runs as deep as the Atlantic Ocean.
Jones' politics have become increasingly at odds with a Republican Party that he believes has lost its moorings. Although he voted to authorize the war in Iraq, he has since become one of its most vociferous opponents.
He was one of only two House Republicans to vote against expanding the scope of the administration's anti-terrorist surveillance program. And he thinks Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is downright incompetent, and believes vice presidential aide Scooter Libby should have served some jail time -- "at least for a day or two."
Those are fighting words in an unabashedly pro-Bush district that gave the president 68 percent of the vote in 2004. Supporting the troops here means supporting their mission, regardless of national approval rates for the war's handling.
In Jones' district, Marines deploy to Iraq from Camp Lejeune, one of the largest military bases in the U.S. Cherry Point, the largest Marine Corps air station in the country, serves as the economic engine of Craven County.
At the New Bern Airport, soldiers reunite with their wives and girlfriends amid hugs and tears. And along the fence outside Lejeune, a line of bedsheets welcomes returning troops with moving messages.
A visit to Cubbie's, the diner that put "freedom fries" on the map, tells plenty about voter sentiment here -- and about Jones' vulnerability.
Owner Neal Rowland, 30, received international acclaim when, in the run-up to the Iraq war, he renamed french fries "freedom fries" to show support for the troops. Jones picked up on the idea, and after taking it to the House cafeteria, he visited Cubbie's and autographed a signed photo that Rowland had framed.
Four years later, the photo of Rowland and Jones is long gone, replaced with a "McLaughlin for Congress" bumper sticker. Rowland said many of his patrons began to question the presence of Jones' photo on a wall filled with tributes to the troops.
"Everybody's turned anti-Walter," Rowland said recently. "At least a good once a week, somebody will always say, 'What happened to your man?' They want to know why he's voting the way he is."
Jones now describes his association with freedom fries as "an accident to begin with" and says he wishes he'd never gotten involved with it.
"It was a novel idea at the time, but if people want to call them freedom fries, potatoes -- there's no symbolism. There was initially. It's old news now," said Jones.
Despite his opposition to the war, Jones says he's been a steadfast supporter of the troops. He has signed more than 6,700 letters to families throughout the country who lost loved ones in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Inside the entrance to his Hill office are photographs of fallen soldiers. His staff closely attends to veterans' issues, and he insists that his position of setting a time-certain date for withdrawal is winning support among constituents.
"There is becoming more of a belief there's got to be a better definition of victory than we're seeing," said Jones. "You can continue to dig and dig to make a hole bigger. People want to see an endpoint."
At a local barbecue restaurant last week, he delivered a passionate speech defending his position -- and slamming the administration's foreign policy. He approvingly read from Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold's 2006 Time editorial attacking the Bush administration for using "9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy."
He accused the "neocons" -- he repeated the phrase twice -- of manipulating intelligence to sell the Iraq war to the public. He said he was more concerned with terrorists coming from South America than from Iraq.
"Many people get their news from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity," Jones said after the speech, referring to the popular conservative radio talk show hosts. "I get my news in classified briefings with military experts and CIA experts. I have to make my decision based on what the experts say."
His position on the war, however, appears to be alienating some longtime and influential supporters from the most populous counties in his district.
Onslow County GOP Chairman Ron Cherubini has refused to endorse Jones for reelection and is actively supporting his opponent, McLaughlin, even though party chairmen normally remain neutral in intraparty fights.
Craven County Republican Party Chairman Michael Speciale is still supporting Jones but admitted he might lose if the primary were held today.
"I've talked to a lot of people and I haven't talked to anyone that's still supporting him," said Speciale. "Everywhere I go, people get upset with me because I'm still supporting him. They think I'm on the wrong side. Here's a man who served us well most of these years. We disagree with him right now and we're ready to kick him out to pasture."
McLaughlin is capitalizing on that sentiment and offering a hawkish message to voters.
A retired Army Ranger, McLaughlin said he had been a longtime supporter of Jones but believes the congressman is now "standing shoulder to shoulder with [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and [anti-war activist] Cindy Sheehan" because he voted with Democrats on legislation to set a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq.
"I've got something that Walter used to have but won't ever have again, and that's the motivated base, the men and women who wore the country's uniform, who know that weakness in the face of tyrants is fatal," McLaughlin said.
At this point, McLaughlin has low name identification in the district -- the sentiment is more anti-Jones than pro-McLaughlin.
But McLaughlin's campaign manager, Doug Raymond, a veteran of North Carolina politics, believes that in a low-turnout primary, enthusiasm will be higher for McLaughlin than for the longtime incumbent.
"Jones' people are quiet and they are hesitant. They're not beating the drums for 'Jones for Congress.' They say, 'I know he's wrong on supporting the troops, and [I] know he's been standing with Cindy Sheehan, but he's still my guy,'" said Raymond. "On Election Day, we have the infrastructure advantage. We're going to have the boots on the ground. We're going to have the poll workers."
Neither candidate has done much fundraising. Jones raised only $53,000 in the second quarter -- one of the lowest totals for a targeted incumbent. But McLaughlin raised only $31,000, and Raymond acknowledged that they'll need to pick up the pace to mount a well-organized challenge.
McLaughlin spent time in Washington with a handful of conservative groups earlier this month, including the anti-tax Club for Growth.
The group has had considerable success aiding first-time GOP candidates with fundraising, and successfully helped oust a GOP incumbent in a primary last year. They recently endorsed an opponent to Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), who, like Jones, opposes the Iraq war.
"We thought the interview went very well. [Jones'] record just generally is not very good on economic issues," said Club for Growth Executive Director David Keating.
Jones is an outspoken opponent of free-trade agreements, arguing that "this country cannot continue to send manufacturing jobs around the world." That populist sentiment plays well at home, and when he brought up the subject at the forum, he was greeted with a chorus of amens.
McLaughlin also raises the economy as a talking point against Jones, accusing him of supporting several pork-barrel projects outside the district.
But the issue animating the pending primary campaign is, first and foremost, the Iraq war. McLaughlin is staking his entire campaign on whether the Iraq war can be enough of a political asset in one of the most conservative districts in the country to unseat a longtime, well-respected congressman.
"Veterans of a certain age who wore the uniform in the Vietnam era, they remember very clearly how they were treated. Now they're having flashbacks of what their elected officials did for them back in the '60s," McLaughlin said.
In 2005, when George Stephanopoulos asked Jones on ABC's "This Week" how his opposition to the war would affect his political future, Jones brought up some advice from his father, who was first elected to Congress during the heated political debate over the Vietnam War.
"I'm going to do what my heart tells me to do. And if that means it jeopardizes my being reelected, I can always tell you that my daddy, who served for 26 years in the United States House of Representatives, always told me to vote my conscience first, my constituency second and my party third."
I think you’re mixing the Club For Growth up with the some groups more similar to the Chamber of Commerce, like Main Street Republicans. The Club for Growth heavily supported primary challeges to Rep. Joe Schwatz and Sens. Arlen Specter and Lincoln Chaffee.
Jones, it seems, has out-served his usefullness. He has forgotten who he is to represent, and he will pay a large price for his stupidity.
Wrong answer bub. When you are an elected representative, your constituency always comes first. Your conscience doesn't matter.
“Kucinich, long considered an anti-war bogeyman by the right”
LOL...make that “an anti-war buffoon.” Any RINO who appears with Kucinnich is committing political suicide and deserves to be dumped in the coming primary.
Wow, what a stunning admission from a US Representative! The people that put him in office comes second to his own personal feelings.
This will be a repeat of the recent N GA election which replaced the sitting Rhinoish R with a possible true Conservative Dr. in the primary....but the RNC will ignore this and continue down the Spector death road!
The comments that jump out at me are the constant jabs at his constituents “ of the the conviction that patriotism means supporting even unpopular wars runs as deep as the Atlantic Ocean. “
“Those are fighting words in an unabashedly pro-Bush district that gave the president 68 percent of the vote in 2004. Supporting the troops here means supporting their mission, regardless of national approval rates for the war’s handling”
Dont you understand that these are silly hillbilly rubes that will blindly follow Bush off the edge of a cliff, no matter HOW much the rest of the Nation is against it?
What passes for journalism these days is just offensive
Back in the day, that was how it was supposed to be. People elected Statesmen for what they stood for. This is not a Democracy! I don’t want a representative who polls his folks daily to make up his mind. That said, good riddance Jones.
That is exactly wrong.
We have a representative democracy; our reps are not electors to do our bidding.
Besides, if you are Christian you know that it is always one's first duty to obey one's conscience.
This Club For Growth thing has had its spokes people out posting to blogs quite a lot. A novel fund raising method, which I suppose everyone knows means that their management funds their own pay raises.
Where is the independent audit trail showing what percentage “administration fees” represents of their budget?
RINO? Jones is one of the most conservative members of the House. His only sin is that he against world policing.
We’ll see. Jones and Paul were on the various pro-administration hit lists before the 2006 election, both survived and thrived as Santorum, Allen, etc. went down in flames.
Nice try.. but in a Republic , the representives do vote their conscience.
That kind of thinking almost got us shamnesty. thankfully, "we the people" reminding our elected representatives who the boss is.
Electing an avowed pro-amnesty presidential candidate in 2000 and 2004 got us shamnesty, more than anything else.
We would do far better if we returned our country to its Republican form. If representatives are just going to vote their constituencies' views directly, then we regress to a mobocracy, just like the Founding Fathers so rightfully feared. The moonbats at DU are licking their chops for such an opportunity.
While I support the CFG generally, notably just as with pro-life and pro-second amendments coalitions whether a candidate they support is right on issues other then, in this case, economics isn’t a primary concern. As stated in this article they backed an opponent against the war elsewhere.
My Feeling is that this Congressman needs a challenger. Whether this guy is the right guy I don’t know. Where is he on the other issues? IF he’s correct on them, then I’d support him.
I have no attachment to incumbents anymore. Not when they turn and support positions that are repugnant, especially when they are out of sync with what voters thought they were getting originally. IF this challenger is right on more then economics and the war, if he’s right on social issues and immigration? Jones shuld be tossed to the curb. And CFG would be a powerful ally to help accomplish this.
I would like to hear from his constituents about the actual chance of getting rid of this guy before he does real damage.
Can he realistically be beaten?