In my diary ranking the potential pick up opportunities in North Carolina I ranked NC-03 as #3, a second tier pickup opportunity. There were more than a few people who asked for more information so I thought I should oblige.
Let me begin by saying that I have spent a very limited amount of time within this district. My local knowledge of the area is about zero, but I will try my best to make a case for making this race a top target in 2008.
NC-03 is one of those weird districts that looks more like an octopus than it should. This is the result of many, many different factors, including gerrymandering and the Voting Rights Act.
This district is home to a large chunk of beach property, and contains well over half of North Carolina’s beaches. The district includes tourist attractions such as the Outer Banks and Kitty Hawk, cities with long histories, such as New Bern, and a Marine Base. This Marine Base, Camp Lejeune, is home to almost 150,000 people. It also helps support the neighboring town of Jacksonville by providing about $3 billion a year in commerce.
The registration for this district paints a much rosier view than I will. According the North Carolina Legislature, Democrats lead in voter registration 48 to 35. However, national pundits such as Charlie Cook rate this as an R+15 district. The difference is from the fact that not all Democrats are alike. This is one of those districts where we see remarkable differences between local and federal. For instance, in Onslow county (home to Jacksonville) Mike Easley, the Democrat running for Governor lost the county by under 2,000 votes. George Bush won the county by almost 14,000 votes. A large part of this difference between registration and numbers is that in past elections little effort has been put into these areas. It would be kind to say that the Democratic Party has not done any turnout efforts in this district for a long time.
Past election results
Below you will find a table (of sorts) comparing Democratic performance and amount of money spent in the last few elections. What this tells us, is that if a candidate puts up a website and pays his filing fee, he will get 30% of the vote. However, it is very clear that we have almost no idea about what could happen.
Candidate Vote Total Percentage Amount Spent Dollar/Vote
Walter Jones 99,519 68.65% $674,917 $6.78
Craig Weber 45,458 31.35% $48,371 $1.06
Walter B. Jones 171,863 70.70% $586,012 $3.41
Roger A. Eaton 71,227 29.30% $15,265 $0.21
Amount Spent is from OpenSecrets.org
There was one race where a Dem spent a lot of money. That was in 2000, when a self finance candidate spent 600,000 of his own money, and raised another 400 to 500 thousand. I honestly have no idea why the guy did so poorly. If anyone out there has details about that race it would be appreciated.
For many years, Walter Jones Sr represented what is now NC-03. He was an old time Democrat who represented the district from 1966 until his death in 1992. His son, Walter Jones, Jr ran to replace him, and lost in the Democratic primary in 1992. Upon losing he switched parties, and was elected to the US House as a Republican in 1994. He gained national attention for starting the “Freedom Fries” movement during the run up to the Iraq War (His ally in this name change was Bob Ney) . However, beginning in 2005 he began calling for the withdrawal of troops. This change of heart has prompted many to say that he should switch parties and run as a Democrat again. I would caution against this line of thinking by giving you some statistics:
His past two rankings from the NAACP have been 43% and 15%
He has never scored below 100% from the Christian Coalition.
His past three rankings from NEA have been 50%, 30% and 17%.
His past two rankings from AFL-CIO have been 17% and 36%
Challengers in 2008
On the Republican side, there were rumors of a primary challenge to Jones in 2006. However, these rumors were largely from national sources seeking to handicap the race. This year is different, for the simple fact that we have rumors with specific names, from local sources.
Ferrell is the previous chair of the North Carolina Republican Party. How well did he do? Well, on Election Day in 06 he resigned before the polls even closed. He also upset a lot of high dollar donors by running ads throughout the eastern part of the state touting Republican values, with his face on the ads. What was the problem with this? Besides its obvious self-promotion, the money could have gone to much better use in NC-11 or NC-08. The rumor mill, almost immediately after he resigned, involved him running against Jones.
From the opposite side of the intra-party fight that has been plaguing the NCGOP for a few years now is Art Pope. Art Pope is a former legislator, who spends millions funding right wing candidates, 527s, PACs and “non partisan think tanks”. There are signs that Pope might have hand picked McLaughlin to run against Jones. Who is McLaughlin? Well, he is an Onslow county commissioner who in recent weeks has put out multiple statements attacking Jones, and has been spending some of his spare time meeting with various count party activists outside of Onslow county (but within the 3rd district).
Marshall is the lone Democrat running at the moment. A retired Marine General, Marshall has started reaching out to blogs early. Marshall, recognizing the fundraising problems presented by this race (and the partisan landscape) will be going ahead full steam in the next few weeks. With the high marine population in the district, and with Marshall’s background, this could become a very interesting run. Want an indication of Marshall’s commitment? He moved meetings around at the last minute, and drove from a consulting job he was on in New Jersey so that he could get to Greensboro and be at the Young Dems’ convention.
What this all adds up to is the early indications that we could be looking at a perfect storm. Jones’ campaign coffer isn’t empty, but it isn’t huge right now. He could very well be facing one, if not two, highly funded candidates on his right in the primary. If he gets through that, he would be looking at a well-funded, moderate Democrat with over a year of campaigning already under his belt.
I will close my diary with a rant from Thomas Brock, Democratic activist and blogger who lives in NC-03:
I'm tired of hearing about these "unwinnable" districts. Last year, Craig Weber (D-candidate for NC-03) got 30% of the vote. Pretty unremarkable, right? Except that he didn't do anything and he didn't return telephone calls and he didn't reach out to local parties for help. He didn't do anything and got a third of the vote.
With a little effort and maybe one or two hard-working volunteers in each county along with County Party support, he could've beaten Jones, Jr.
The downfall of the NC Democratic Party is that it enters each campaign season with the "we can win here, but over there isn't in play" mindset. It's a great recipe for failure, but we've got new ingredients and it's long past time for a new recipe.
NC-03 is more in play than it has been in years. It's in play and it's winnable.