There’s at least one special election coming to North Carolina soon

Death of Rep. Walter Jones opens up a reliably red seat

The death of North Carolina Rep. Walter B. Jones opens up a seat in a Republican area that's used to being represented by a Jones in Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The death of North Carolina Rep. Walter B. Jones over the weekend opens up a safe Republican seat on the state’s east coast.

The governor must call a special election for the 3rd District. But there is no statutory time frame, so the timing will be up to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. 

Further west, in the 9th District, voters are still waiting to hear whether there will be a special election for the vacant seat — the results of the 2018 election between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready have not been certified. The North Carolina State Board of Elections is holding an evidentiary hearing on allegations of election fraud on Feb. 18.

North Carolina may have a new congressional map in place by the 2020 elections, but likely not before a special election in either district. A three-judge panel in August struck down the state’s congressional lines as a partisan gerrymander, but that decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court, which isn’t likely to rule until June. 

Jones ran uncontested in last year’s general election in the 3rd District, after already saying his 13th term would be his last. There’s little chance of Democrats making this seat competitive — President Donald Trump carried it by 24 points in 2016.

The real action will be in the Republican primary. 

Aside from one two-year term, a Jones has represented North Carolina in Congress since 1966, when Jones’ father came to the House. The younger Jones tried to succeed him but fell short in the 1992 Democratic primary runoff. Jones switched to the GOP and won a neighboring seat in 1994. 

Jones saw his fair share of contested primaries, especially given his predilections for bucking his party’s establishment. The fact that there’s no Jones on the ballot this time opens up the race to a crowded GOP field. 

North Carolina state Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown is a potential candidate to watch. An automobile dealer, he first ran for the state House unsuccessfully as a Democrat, then won a Senate seat in 2004 after changing parties. He represents Jones and Oslow counties. 

Another potential candidate who could raise competitive money is state Rep. Greg Murphy, a urologist who represents Pitt County, although he’s also thought to be interested in a gubernatorial bid. 

North Carolina won’t be the only state with early special election action in 2019. Pennsylvania’s 12th District will hold a special election on May 21 to fill the remainder of former Rep. Tom Marino’s term. The Republican congressman left several weeks after the new session began to take a job in the private sector. 

From the archives: Walter Jones’ salute to the troops

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