The Crystal Coast Republican Men's Club faithful were all smiles as they gathered at a restaurant to listen to their candidate for North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District.Rep. John Murtha indicated as such a few months back, when he said that you won't see any significant gain in Republican votes for Iraq legislation until after the primaries are over.
But the warm reception wasn't for the Republican who since 1995 has represented this stretch of coast from the Virginia state line to the sprawling Marine base at Camp Lejeune. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., a soft-spoken, deeply religious man who two years ago turned against the Iraq war, was not there.
The GOP activists dining on fried fish were cheering Joe McLaughlin, a county commissioner and retired Army major who has launched a hard-charging bid to dispatch Jones in next year's primary by highlighting Jones' votes against the war.
"His is a message of despair, a message of defeat," McLaughlin told the appreciative crowd as he derided Jones, accusing him of abandoning the troops, President Bush, even talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.
Jones, who has never had a primary challenge but is being abandoned by GOP officials across his district, is not alone.
Across the country, other Republican lawmakers who have broken with over the war are under fire from party loyalists.
The revolt could cost Jones and a handful of other members of Congress their seats next year. It also helps explain why the stalled Democratic legislative campaign to end the war is unlikely to revive any time soon.
This is pretty pathetic. Democrats are often accused of paying too much attention to liberal base voters, but now, it is clearly the Republicans who are out of step with the mainstream because they fear the wrath of the die-hards who vote in primaries. This is clearly going to cost the Republicans seats, especially on the Senate side, because these incumbents won't be able to win a general election with their voting record, or they'll have already been replaced by a more right-wing candidate (as probably would have happened to Sen. Chuck Hagel in Nebraska).
Of course, this is good news for Democrats. But it is still sad that Republicans who stood up and did the right thing are going to get punished for it by their fellow co-partisans whom they've worked for a long time.