Republican voters in an eastern North Carolina congressional race on Tuesday picked state Rep. Greg Murphy to be the party’s nominee for a special election, crushing efforts by some national Republicans to elevate a woman candidate.
Backed by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, and other conservative outside groups, Murphy defeated pediatrician Joan Perry in North Carolina’s 3rd District, which is considered safe Republican territory.
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Perry received substantial support from national Republicans, including endorsements from former Speaker Newt Gingrich, all 13 female Republicans in the House conference and Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.). Outside groups dropped more than $1 million into the race to boost Perry in the hopes that they could add another female Republican to the House ranks.
But Murphy survived with the help of Meadows and fellow Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). The conservative duo stood by Murphy because the candidate promised to join the Freedom Caucus ranks if elected — something Perry wouldn’t do.
In the final hours of the runoff, Meadows told POLITICO that the race wasn’t about “gender.”
“It’s really a race about one candidate willing to join the Freedom Caucus, and the other candidate not being willing to,” said Meadows.
Like Murphy, Perry campaigned as a conservative ally of President Donald Trump, who didn’t endorse in the contest. But she countered that she wouldn’t pledge loyalty to the Freedom Caucus or any other group before being elected because she was “going to Washington attached only to my constituents.”
Murphy entered the runoff with a slight advantage. He finished first in the late April primary with 23 percent in a 17-candidate race — shy of the more-than-30 percent needed to clinch the nomination, but more than the 15 percent received by Perry, the second-place candidate.
The battle is sure to leave House Republicans scrambling as party leaders vowed early on that they would devote more money and resources to elect Republican women after watching the diversity in their caucus shrink in 2018.
Tuesday’s runoff presented the last chance for Republicans to push a female candidate across the finish line in 2019. Republicans also nominated white men in the two other congressional elections earlier this year: now-Rep. Fred Keller in Pennsylvania, and the party’s nominee for the do-over election in North Carolina’s 9th District, state Sen. Dan Bishop.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) praised Perry for a “hard fought battle” — but warned her Republican colleagues that they need to help female candidates win.
“I remain encouraged by the many dynamic, conservative and qualified women who are stepping up across the country,” said McMorris Rodgers. “If they don’t win their primaries, we won’t win back the majority. It’s that simple.”
Murphy, the winner of Tuesday’s runoff, will face Democrat Allen Thomas and two minor-party candidates in the special election on Sept. 10. Trump won more than 60 percent in the district in the 2016 election.
Failure to boost Perry raises questions about the GOP’s new strategy to diversify its ranks and the limitations of its cash-only strategy. No centralized groups exist to provide hiring advice, social media guidance, or messaging lessons to candidates.