Will the backlash against "Congress" imperil Walter Jones?
Is the Super PAC a substitute for term limits?
March 30, 2012
There's a storm brewing in Eastern North Carolina. And Walter Jones may be in the eye of that storm. He has been targeted by the Campaign for Primary Accountability (CPA). And if recent results in Ohio, Illinois and Alabama are any indication of things to come, Jones may face the fight of his life in May. CPA has targeted him in the May primary.
Here's how CPA defines "the problem:"
AMERICANS ARE FED UP
There's one thing all Americans are fed up with: Trillion-dollar federal deficits. They destroy jobs, burden future generations with crushing debts and benefit only the corrupt, entrenched establishment in Washington, D.C., which wants ever-greater control over our lives.
We're also disgusted with a Congress that is, directly or indirectly, responsible for these problems. How disgusted? In November 2010, the approval rating of Congress was just 17%, which was the lowest in our history.
But in that same month–when the approval rate of Congress was at an all-time low–86% of incumbent members of the U.S. House of Representatives were re-elected! Imagine working for a company that is losing money, lays off half its workers, pollutes the river but then gives its top executives huge bonuses. Something clearly is wrong with such a system, and it's high time we did something about it.
UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM
More than 80% of congressional districts are controlled by one of the two political parties. Most general elections aren't even close. The incumbent wins in a landslide, with an average margin of victory of 26%. Most long-term incumbents–the ones who control Congress–come from one-party districts. The general elections in which they cruise to victory election after election are really fake fights, like the ones in pro wrestling.
THE REAL CONTEST IS IN THE PRIMARY
But here's the killer. Primaries are far less competitive than the general elections. During the past decade, House incumbents were as likely to die in office as to lose a primary election. Incumbents enjoy other huge advantages. They write the rules by which elections are conducted, get favorable coverage from the media simply because they are in office and have lavish travel expenses and other perks of office. Lobbyists shower them with campaign funds.
It's just not right.
Driven by frustration with Washington, citizens are hungry for a way to regain control of a runaway federal government. We're desperate to end the fraud, mismanagement, corruption and crime. For far too long, Americans have mistakenly pinned their hopes on a political savior, a white knight, or some other figment of our imaginations, who will win the presidency, roll up his (or her) sleeves and "clean house." Others place their trust in a political party or ideological "movement." If bitter experience is any guide, we've been wasting our energy, money and time. The way to regain control of Washington is to regain control of Congress. Congress, after all, is the most powerful branch of government, and the most powerful members of Congress are entrenched House incumbents.
PRIMARIES ARE THE OPPORTUNITY
Primaries, remember, are where very few people bother to vote and where a small fraction of the electorate decides who will run in November and return to Washington. Remember that 10% of voters participate in the dominant primaries. This equates to an average of only 40,000-50,000 voters in each district. As pathetic as this seems, the low turnout in primaries represents a real opportunity. That's because just a small percentage of voters in any district can change the outcome of the primary and, therefore, change who will end up representing that district in Congress.
Jones has come under scrutiny as never before as a result of his voting record in recent years. He was elected, and touts himself, as a "conservative." Yet he has the most liberal voting record of any Republican in the North Carolina Delegation and one of the most liberal records of all Republicans in the House. Some have pointed out that he has been in Congress long enough that he should have risen to a leadership position but he does not chair any significant committees. His challenger in the Republican Primary, Frank Palombo, contends he has lost touch with the "people back home." Others contend it is not so much losing touch as it is "the arrogance of incumbency." That is where CPA comes in. It is their stated objective to make incumbents compete for their seats.
What compounds Jones' problem is a growing and intense negative reaction against incumbents. Congress itself has some of the lowest approval ratings in history, and it has not changed with the change in partisan control of the House in 2010. But in the past surveys have shown that while a heavy majority of people express frustration with "Congress" they still vote for their incumbent. Incumbents have seldom lost.
But that may be changing. The previous efforts to unseat incumbents has tended to focus on the General Election, where partisan politics played a key role. However, the approach CPA is using is to focus on the primary where viable candidates are challenging incumbents. That may change the End Game. Indications are that the popular backlash against "politics as usual" and the shift of attention to the primaries may portend trouble for Jones and other entrenched incumbents.
Jones is perceived by some observers as being especially vulnerable because of his positions on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He represents a heavy military oriented district. He has long called for pulling the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, a position that some consider surrender rather than insisting that our troops be given the support necessary to win. One retired Marine colonel told us: "Jones' position is dispicable. While our troops were in harm's way he advocated 'cut-n-run.' That does nothing but encourage the enemy. What we need are leaders in Washington that do not send our troops into battle unless they intend to let them win. War is hell, but once the President deploys our troops Congressmen should support whatever is necessary to get the mission accomplished." At a recent public meeting in the district that comment got a standing ovation. Jones has come under withering criticism for the following:
We shall see how it all plays out.
If you have read this far you will most likely be interested in this article that recently appeared in the National Journal.