05/11/07 — Challenge coming for Jones in 2008

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Challenge coming for Jones in 2008

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 11, 2007 1:45 PM

Visiting Goldsboro Wednes-day, Onslow County Commis-sioner Joe McLaughlin an-nounced to a small crowd at McCall's Bar-B-Que & Seafood Restaurant that he will be challenging U.S. Rep. Walter Jones for the Republican nomination in the 3rd Congressional District.

"This campaign's only about 36 hours old," McLaughlin laughed during his introduction.

But he seems to already be generating some interest in the party's base.

Running primarily against Jones' stance on the war in Iraq, McLaughlin said throwing his hat into the ring was a tough decision, but one he felt he had to make.

"Since 1994, I have been a Walter Jones supporter," he said. "But it just cannot be that the congressman from the 3rd District, which probably has more troops in the fight than any other district in the country, would have more in common with (U.S. House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and the rest of the Democrats than with the Republican leadership."

The straw that broke the camel's back, McLaughlin added, was when Jones voted with Democrats to include a withdrawal timeline in the recent war appropriations bill, and then, with Democrats, tried to overturn President George Bush's veto.

He also highlighted 16 other House votes, including one against reauthorizing the Patriot Act, in which Jones either sided with Democrats or refused to cast an up or down vote.

But, McLaughlin continued, his candidacy is not just about being opposed to Jones, it's about bringing somebody new to the table.

"This is not a protest candidacy," he said. "Walter is not the same man we sent to Washington 13 years ago. Fundamentally, a year from now, we will have a choice."

McLaughlin, 52, retired as a major from the U.S. Army in 1994, after graduating from Ranger School and spending several years at Fort Bragg as a member of the 82nd Airborne. He has served as an Onslow County commissioner since 2000 and also works as a financial planner in Jackonsville, where he lives with his wife and three children.

McLaughlin also responded to questions from the dozen or so people in audience, seeking to explain his domestic positions as well.

He agreed that the nation has a problem with illegal immigration and suggested that a guest worker program, without amnesty, might be the best solution.

He also pledged to be a fiscal conservative.

"I take very seriously other people's money," McLaughlin said. "As a commissioner and as a congressman, I know we've got to live within our means."

On abortion, he explained that he used to have a "moderate to liberal" view -- until his mother told him one day that she might not have decided to have him (the youngest of five by eight years) if she could have gotten an abortion.

"I moved a few meters to the right then," he said.

He also said that he, "believes that marriage is between a man and a woman," but that even homosexual couples should be allowed legal rights -- just not the institution of marriage.

And finally, he shared with the group that while he is a Christian -- a Roman Catholic like Jones -- he won't be wearing his faith on his sleeve.

It was a kickoff speech that seems to have at least caught the interest of several Wayne County Republican activists. Gene Baker was even among those who encouraged McLaughlin to run.

"Two years ago I became very disillusioned with Walter Jones," Baker said. "I was prepared to run against him myself just to give voters a choice, but Joe is a very qualified person.

"He's clear in his message and he's loyal to his party. I think our congressman has gone astray and has lost the support of the majority of the 3rd District."

That sentiment was shared by others -- if not quite as strongly.

"I worked on Walter Jones' campaign when he ran the first time," Ann Sullivan said. "I love Walter Jones. I really do. But he's not receptive to ideas anymore. I think he's lost his perspective.

"I haven't made my mind up yet. I want to look for new, fresh ideas. I liked what I heard and I think (Joe) has a chance, but it hurts me to be torn like this."

County party chairman Billy Strickland, while not voicing support for one candidate or the other, noted that McLaughlin's support seems to be growing.

"I think in eastern North Carolina some people have become displeased with Walter and I do think some people are looking for a viable candidate (to run against him)," Strickland said. "Whether Mr. McLaughlin is that person or not, I don't know, but everywhere I've seen him, people seem to like what he has to say and he seems to have a lot of support."