Murphy, GOP organizer dispute Jones' pick for seat
By Jon Hawley
Sunday, June 16, 2019
Who did Walter Jones want to succeed him in Congress?
State Rep. Greg Murphy says the late 3rd District congressman wanted him to fill the seat, but a local Republican organizer who's backing Murphy's opponent in next month's GOP runoff primary is disputing that.
Murphy, a doctor from Greenville, is running against Dr. Joan Perry, of Kinston, in the second Republican primary for the 3rd Congressional District. The two were the finalists in a crowded primary in April, and the winner of July 9th's second primary will face Democrat Allen Thomas, of Greenville, and third-party candidates in a general election in September.
This year's special election in the 3rd Congressional District is necessary because Jones, a longtime GOP congressman from Farmville, passed away in February with nearly two years left on the term he won last November.
Danny Gray, a former chairman for the Dare and Camden Republican parties, has raised the issue of Jones' wishes in meetings and interviews this month. He broached the subject while Perry took questions at a Pasquotank County GOP dinner meeting held June 4 at The Villa in Elizabeth City.
Referring to Murphy, Gray asked Perry: “He's going around saying Walter has, you know, endorsed him, and I know for a fact, Walter told me, three months ago, before he died, that he would not get involved in the election. Have you heard anything like this?”
“Certainly not from the candidate,” Perry responded.
Gray also raised the matter directly with Murphy, who met him for breakfast at the IHOP restaurant in Elizabeth City, last weekend. He asked Murphy if Jones planned to support him.
“He did,” Murphy replied. “He was going to endorse me next year.”
Murphy recounted Jones offered his support almost a year ago in a dinner meeting in Washington, D.C., and that he also met with several of North Carolina's Republican congressmen, including Reps. Mark Meadows, Patrick McHenry, Mark Walker and David Rouzer.
Gray responded he had spoken with Jones' wife, Joe Anne, who told him her husband didn't plan to endorse anyone.
That's not what Jones' words to him were, Murphy said, though he said he was not making an issue of who Jones preferred as his successor.
Gray told Murphy then that he took his word for it. However, in a followup interview on Thursday, Gray said he believed Murphy had “lied” about Jones' support.
Gray said he plans to support Perry in next month's runoff primary.
Murphy's campaign manager and fundraising coordinator, Doug Raymond and Lynda Blount, respectively, were adamant Thursday that Murphy is telling the truth about Jones' wishes. They also expressed outrage and offense at Jones' support being made an issue, warning it could drag the late congressman's grieving family into the campaign.
Raymond said he knew Jones for 20 years and worked his last two campaigns. After Jones decided in 2018 he would not seek re-election in 2020, he did discuss endorsing a candidate then, specifically Murphy. Raymond said he actually warned Jones about endorsing anyone, citing concerns about his legacy, and a contentious primary likely to feature “baseball lineup card” of candidates.
Jones mentioned supporting Murphy again, Raymond continued, particularly after he said Murphy called out campaign ads that primary challenger Scott Dacey ran against Jones last year.
Raymond was also emphatic that Murphy's campaign has avoided making an issue of Jones' wishes, citing respect for his family. It has not campaigned on or run ads about Jones' support, and doesn't intend to, he said.
As for Murphy addressing the issue during the meeting with Gray, Raymond noted he wasn't there but said Murphy likely felt he should respond to a direct question.
Blount said she knew Jones for more than 40 years, and she and her husband have both worked in his campaigns, Blount herself taking on several roles in campaigns since 2009. She said Jones' wishes were brought up to her in confidence. She reiterated the campaign has not brought up Jones' wishes, but explained she didn't want to let someone accuse Murphy of lying.
Of Jones' wishes, she said she had “all the faith in the world that, if he had lived, he would have endorsed” Murphy.
Gray also says he's a longtime friend of Jones', and helped introduce him to local Republicans in the 1990s, after Jones switched his registration from Democrat to Republican. Gray stood by his claims that Jones and his wife told him the congressman planned to stay out of the campaign.
A reporter reached out to the other North Carolina U.S. House members that Murphy mentioned — Meadows, McHenry, Walker and Rouzer — to vouch for his claim of Jones' support. A spokesman for Meadows, who's endorsed Murphy, offered no comment, while spokesmen for McHenry and Walker said they could not corroborate — but didn't dispute — Murphy's claim.
A spokesman for Rouzer did vouch for Murphy, though, writing in an email he could “confirm this.”
“Rep. Jones invited Rep. Rouzer and other colleagues to dinner to introduce him to Dr. Murphy because he would be running for his seat,” a spokesman for Rouzer said in the email. “It was clearly understood that Rep. Jones liked Dr. Murphy and hoped his colleagues would get to know him.”
Separate from Jones' wishes, both Murphy and Perry have drawn numerous endorsements from conservatives and conservative groups. For Murphy, some include the Tea Party Express, the National Women for Trump Organization, the House Freedom Caucus — led by Meadows — and, most recently, the National Rifle Association.
Perry's endorsements include, in part, the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, Maggie's List, House Republican Caucus Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Republican US Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Early voting in the GOP 3rd Congressional District primary starts Wednesday at area boards of election.