WASHINGTON -- State Rep. Greg Murphy has won the Republican nomination in North Carolina's heavily red 3rd District, making him the strong favorite to succeed the late Walter B. Jones, who died in February.
Murphy, who was backed by the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus, defeated pediatrician Joan Perry in a low-turnout primary runoff Tuesday that attracted more than $1 million in spending from outside groups dedicated to electing GOP women. With 56% of precincts reporting, Murphy was leading Perry 64% to 36% when The Associated Press called the race.
Perry's defeat is a loss for Republican women's groups, such as Winning for Women and Susan B. Anthony List, which were hoping to add another woman to the 13 who are currently in the 197-member House GOP conference. All the female Republicans in the House, including the sole woman in the House Freedom Caucus, backed Perry, as did eight GOP men. Perry's defeat is also a loss for House Republicans more closely aligned with leadership, who didn't want to see the Freedom Caucus pick up another member.
Murphy will face off against Democrat Allen Thomas in the Sept. 10 general election. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican. This will be the first time in 24 years that the 3rd District has new representation. Jones was first elected in 1994. His father had represented a similar area for about 26 years before that.
Murphy and his allies were outspent, but as an elected official, he ran with a built-in constituency that Perry did not have. A urologic surgeon, he's been elected to the state House twice from Pitt County -- one of the 17 counties in this Eastern North Carolina district. Murphy finished first among 17 candidates in the April 30 primary, followed by Perry, who was able to request the runoff because Murphy did not surpass 30% of the vote.
Perhaps the biggest boost to Murphy came from the Freedom Caucus' current chairman, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, and its former chairman, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who both campaigned for Murphy in the district.
Meadows has described his connection to Murphy as a personal relationship. And although the Freedom Caucus chairman has admitted that he and Murphy have some differences of opinion on policy -- Meadows would not have backed a version of Medicaid expansion that Murphy supported, for example -- Meadows was vocal about Murphy being the better choice for the district. Meadows has said Murphy will be a member of the invitation-only Freedom Caucus if he's in Congress.
House Freedom Action spent about $230,000 for Murphy, which paled in comparison to the outside spending that boosted Perry. Meadows, who dominated much of Murphy's first TV ad, is a powerful ally of President Donald Trump, who did not endorse in this race.
In a district that backed Trump by 23 points in 2016, perceived loyalty to the president was a salient factor in the race.
Meadows and Jordan appeared together on Fox News the day before the runoff.