(CBS News) — Along the shores of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a crowded field that includes more candidates than the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, is vying for the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Walter Jones in North Carolina’s third congressional district. Jones, a Republican who had held the seat for 13 terms, died in February at the age of 76.
There are 25 candidates running, and 17 of them are Republican.
One of those GOP candidates is Dr. Joan Perry — a Republican pediatrician who touts her anti-abortion stance as a pediatrician of over 30 years with a strong conservative background.
While she faces 16 other candidates in the special election, including six elected officials and six candidates with a background in politics, Perry is appealing to voters as a “political outsider” who has never run for office, something Republican consultant Barney Keller says will only help her in the race.
“Republican primary voters across the country are looking for people who are looking outside the political system, just like Trump,” said Keller. “No matter where you go, it’s always to your advantage to run against the status in quo in Washington.”
And Perry’s anti-abortion agenda Keller said is a “pitch perfect message” for a Republican primary. So far, Perry has secured the support of the Susan B. Anthony List as well as another group, Winning for Women Action Fund (WFW AF), a political action committee focused on electing more conservative women to office.
WFW AF, which made a six-figure ad buy for Perry in the contested primary, said it’s “proud” to support the Republican. The endorsement is part of an attempt by some in the GOP to focus on electing more women to political office after the 2018 midterm election saw a record number of women, mostly Democrats, taking their seats in the House of Representatives. Currently, there are 102 women serving in Congress. Thirteen are Republican.
“The midterm elections presented a harsh truth — qualified Republican women will continue to fall through the cracks, particularly in primaries, unless they get the support they need from start to finish,” said WFW Executive Director Rebecca Schuller.
“NC-03 is our first opportunity to prove that Republicans are serious about playing in primaries to elect more women, and we look forward to continuing to lead this effort.”
Perry told CBS News that she’s “encouraged and humbled” by the support by WFW as well as an endorsement by the Susan B. Anthony List.
“Pulling together a campaign with solid grassroots and financial support in just seven weeks couldn’t happen without their courage to step forward and stand with me for a new direction in Congress,” said Perry.
While Perry lacks the name recognition or political expertise of some of the others in the race, she shouldn’t be ruled out in the primary, Keller says. Perry’s personal connection to the Eastern North Carolina district could be a significant advantage.
“A small-town pediatrician, there’s usually just one of them…people tend to remember the name of the doctor that cared for their baby,” said Keller. Keller, who is unaffiliated with any candidate running in North Carolina’s Third Congressional District, predicts that not many votes will be cast in the GOP primary — perhaps 16,000 to 25,000 total among all 17 candidates. Basically, “anyone with a large extended family could see themselves in a runoff,” Keller said.
It’s typical for states to have historically low turnout in an election in which there isn’t anything else driving voters to the polls — and that’s likely to be especially true, should there be a runoff election. There will be a runoff if no one wins 30 percent of the vote in the special election.
Keller suggested, “For a race like that…grassroots networks can play an outside influence. Typically just convincing your family to vote for you isn’t a ticket to Congress.” He predicts the race will “100 percent go into a runoff,” and these are the four candidates Keller thinks have the best shot at making it into a runoff: “I’d put two dollars on Perry, [Celeste] Cairns, [Gregory] Murphy and [Eric] Rouse,” he said. That field includes Cairns, another female outsider, Murphy, a current member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and Rouse, a local county commissioner.
Jones initially ran for a North Carolina congressional seat as a Democrat in 1992 but was first elected to North Carolina’s third in 1994 during the so-called “Republican revolution” led by Newt Gingrich. Since then, it’s been considered a largely safe Republican district. Although he was a reliable Republican vote for most of his nearly 24-year tenure, Jones gained notoriety for sometimes breaking with his party.
The primary election takes place on Tuesday, with a general election on July 9. Should a primary runoff be required, it would be held on July 9, 2019, and the general election would then be moved to September 10, 2019.