Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) survived a tough primary battle on Tuesday — beating former Bush administration official and Sarah Palin-endorsed Taylor Griffin by just a few thousand votes — despite a massive influx of funds from outside groups, such as the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), in an effort to defeat Jones.
ECI — a neoconservative group co-founded by Bill Kristol — spent more than $300,000 on the race and released an ad last month attacking Jones for opposing sanctions on Iran and being “endorsed by an anti-Israel group” (the group in question is liberal pro-Israel group J Street).
But it appears that ECI and their neocon allies were more interested in ousting Jones for his isolationist-tilt — he supported the Iraq war but turned critic, has been calling for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan for years, and has opposed a militaristic approach to the Iran nuclear issue — versus supporting Griffin on foreign policy issues. Indeed, Griffin’s campaign website features little discussion of national security. What’s more, Griffin even called on Jones to support a J Street-backed House letter to President Obama urging him to pursue diplomacy with Iran. That letter was widely viewed as a subtle victory for progressives.
Jones’s victory also marks another loss in the long series of political defeats for ECI. During the 2012 presidential campaign, the group devoted most of its efforts trying to convince Jewish voters that Obama was anti-Israel. Of course Obama won re-election but he also maintained a large majority of the Jewish vote (not to mention wide-praise from Israeli leaders).
Months later, ECI was also out front in another failed campaign to derail Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be the next Defense Secretary, once again trying to paint him as anti-Israel and soft on Iran (Kristol himself charged that Hagel was too skeptical of war with Iran to lead the Pentagon).
ECI opposed the interim nuclear deal with Iran — which most experts now agree has been a success, perhaps paving the way for a comprehensive final deal in the next few months. Moreover, the group’s push to get Congress to impose further sanctions on Iran after the interim deal — a move that the Obama administration and experts said would derail talks — also failed.
“Congressman Jones survived an onslaught of special interest spending for one simple reason, his positions on issues of war and peace are in line with the overwhelming majority of Americans,” Win Without War’s Stephen Miles told ThinkProgress in an email. “Groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel can spend all the money they want, but it simply won’t make Americans think a war with Iran is anything other than a disastrous idea.”
CAP expert Matt Duss offered another view, saying on Twitter that the takeaway from Jones’s victory is that “[o]pposition by Emergency Committee for Israel remains [the] most reliable indicator of victory in US politics.”