Earlier this evening, I stopped by this fundraiser for Joe McLaughlin, the Onslow County commissioner who is challenging North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones in the Republican primary. Jones, an alumnus of the class of ’94, has turned sharply against the Iraq war, causing McLaughlin to turn sharply against him. More recently, Jones’s votes to override President Bush’s veto of the Water Resources Protection Act and advance articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney have given McLaughlin an opportunity to expand beyond a single-issue campaign.
But North Carolina’s Third District is the home of Camp Lejeune and heavily military, so the war and foreign policy will loom large. A confident McLaughlin says he believes the district is “ready for a change” and is optimistic that national-security voters will help put him over the top in the primary. “I’ve hammered in signs for Walter Jones,” McLaughlin told me. “But he’s gone too far.” Specifically, he chastised Jones for voting with “the far left” of the Democratic Party rather than the military families of the conservative district. McLaughlin argued that outside “MoveOn.org-style” antiwar groups had come out in favor of Jones, making “the base very angry.”
This, along with the race between antiwar Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest and his primary challenger Andy Harris, will be one of the most closely watched GOP contests in the country.