By Jim EllisMay 1, 2019 — Almost 69,000 eastern North Carolina voters cast ballots in the special Republican and Democratic primaries yesterday to choose a successor to the late Rep. Walter Jones (R-Farmville) who passed away in February.
Since Republicans featured a field of 17 candidates, it appeared obvious that no one would reach the 30 percent threshold necessary to nominate. That proved to be true, and second-place finisher, Joan Perry, confirmed last night that she will petition the NC Board of Elections for a run-off election. Perry, a Kinston area physician in Lenoir County, will face state Rep. Greg Murphy (R-Greenville), another physician and first-place finisher, in a secondary Republican nomination election to be scheduled for July 9.
The Democrats, on the other hand, chose their nominee last night. Former Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas easily captured the party nod garnering just over 50 percent of the vote, 20 percentage points more than he needed. He defeated retired Marine Corps Colonel Richard Bew (25.2 percent), New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw (12.6 percent), and three minor candidates. none of whom reached double-digit support. Thomas now directly advances to the Sept. 10 special general election.
Rep. Murphy took advantage of his Greenville base, the largest population center in the 3rd District that encompasses most of coastal North Carolina, including the Outer Banks region. Dr. Murphy scored 22.5 percent of the vote, or 9,507 votes. Dr. Perry, with support from outside national and state pro-life organizations, drew 15.4 percent translating into 6,515 votes.
All of the competitive candidates did well in their own areas. Though they had little in the way of resources to spend district-wide, state Reps. Phil Shepard (R-Jacksonville) and Michael Speciale (R-New Bern) were strong enough in their home areas to capture third and fourth position.
Rep. Shepard obtained 4,051 votes from his home county of Onslow, a majority 51.5 percent from that entity, but could only attract 1,031 further votes from the rest of the district. Rep. Speciale cobbled together first-place finishes in his home county of Craven and neighboring Pamlico to finish fourth with 9.5 percent.
But it was Rep. Murphy who proved to have the strongest base. Racking up 68 percent in his home of Pitt County and another 30.2 percent in adjacent Beaufort County, Dr. Murphy had a strong enough vote cushion to carry him to a district-wide first-place finish even though he topped the field in only two more of the 17 counties. Dr. Perry carried the most counties, outpacing the large candidate horde in six voting entities.
Two other Republican candidates received substantial outside organization support, Jeff Moore from the national Revive America PAC, and Celeste Cairns who drew the backing of both the Club for Growth and the Awake Carolina PAC. The pair finished seventh and ninth, respectively, among the 17 GOP candidates.
The turnout figure was average for a special election. The GOP participation total saw 42,780 voters cast ballots. By contrast, in the 2018 Republican primary where two candidates challenged Rep. Jones, 48,727 individuals voted. Another 25,813 people voted in the Democratic special primary.
The 3rd District is strongly Republican. President Trump carried the district 60-37 percent, better than Mitt Romney’s 58-41 percent showing in 2012. Four years earlier, John McCain topped then-Sen. Barack Obama, 57-42 percent.
Dr. Murphy will be favored to win the Republican run-off and figures to be rated as a clear choice over Thomas once the special general campaign begins in July.