North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District is hosting a hotly contested special election that has attracted spending from national issue groups. The congressional district was represented by Walter B. Jones (R), who won reelection in 2018 after he ran unopposed in the general election. Jones passed in early 2019, triggering an election that will bring a new representative to the seat for the first time since 1994. This new representative will likely be another Republican. With NC-03 rated as an R+12 district by the 2018 Cook Partisan Voter Index, the GOP expects the winner of the Perry-Murphy runoff to secure a victory over Allen Thomas, who won the Democratic primary easily with 50% of the total vote. Due to the high likelihood of a GOP victory in the general, the primary and subsequent primary runoff have become a battleground for issue groups and candidates working to promote their own competing visions of the Republican party’s future.
Republican Primary Spending
Both parties had crowded primary fields. Republicans had 17 candidates in the race, and Democrats had six candidates. With these crowds, both parties saw an influx of spending, especially for a primary election. Republican issue groups and candidates dominated spending for the entirety of the primary, but this spending advantage did not necessarily guarantee success. If issue group and candidate spending are combined, Celeste Cairns spent the most out of the entire field. However, it was Dr. Joan Perry and Greg Murphy who received enough of the vote to advance to the primary runoff election. Perry and Murphy are now the recipients of spending that is heavily dominated by issue groups that encompass a national divide in the Republican party.
Issue Group Spending
Throughout the special election, issue groups have disproportionally outspent candidates by a considerable margin. This is especially prevalent in the Republican primary runoff between Dr. Joan Perry and Greg Murphy that will conclude on July 9th. Two national issue groups, Winning for Women Action Fund and Women Speak Out PAC, both pro-Perry, have taken early spending leads. While Greg Murphy received no issue group spending in the primary, he recently secured the support of the House Action Fund, which has spent roughly $98K in the last two weeks alone. This divergence in issue group spending between the two candidates highlights a deepening divide in the Republican party based on competing visions of the party’s future. Winning for Women Action Fund and Women Speak Out PAC both share the goal of getting Republican women elected to Congress. In comparison, the House Action Fund is closely aligned to the values of the Freedom Caucus. Because Mark Meadows endorsed Murphy, House Action Fund will continue to spend in support of a candidate with an ideology like that of the Freedom Caucus.
Due to the Republican bent of NC-03, the primary runoff will essentially decide the outcome of the general election. But the primary runoff is important for the additional reason that issue group spending in the race reflects national trends in the Republican party. Issue groups have vastly outspent the actual candidates and have aligned with candidates ideologically similar to their own differing causes. We can expect spending totals to increase as issue groups seek to promote their respective candidates in order further their preferred vision of the Republican party.