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article imageN.C. candidate calls GOP 'extremist,' new voting law 'a turd'

By Kelly Fetty     Nov 6, 2013 in Politics
Raleigh - North Carolina Congressional candidate Jason R. Thigpen made headlines last week when he denounced "radical nut-jobs" in the Republican party and announced he would switch parties and run as a Democrat.
"Enough is enough," he said in a statement posted on his campaign website. "... I refuse to be part of an extremist movement in the GOP that only appears to thrive on fear and hate mongering of anyone and everyone who doesn’t walk their line."
The October 31 announcement wasn't the first time Thigpen criticized GOP policy. In an August 25 Facebook post he called the controversial Voter Information Verification Act recently signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory "a turd."
"You can paint a turd and sell it as art, but it's still a turd," he said. "This is 2013 and any legislator that puts forth such a discriminatory bill should be laughed out of office. This is America, not Russia."
Thigpen's party switch and frank comments caught the attention of political bloggers and landed him an interview on MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on November 4.
The furor has overshadowed an interesting fact about Thigpen's opponent, 10-term Republican Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr.
In 1994, Jones also switched parties—from Democrat to Republican.
Jones' and Thigpen's battle to represent North Carolina's third Congressional District could be seen as a portrait of swing-state politics.
Swing-State North Carolina
Noting the state's volatile mix of rural, urban, African-American and college-student voters, New York Times columnist Nate Silver called North Carolina an "inelastic" swing state in 2012.
"North Carolina is a swing state (or at least it was in 2008)," Silver wrote, "because the coalition of Democratic base voters was quite close in size to the coalition of Republican base voters. But it wasn’t a state with a lot of persuadable voters: it’s the kind of place where elections mostly boil down to turnout, and Mr. Obama — with his considerably stronger ground game — was able to edge out a win there in 2008."
In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney narrowly carried the state, winning 50.6% of the vote.
In September, Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza pointed out that North Carolina "gave us Jesse Helms (iconic southern Republican) and Jim Hunt (iconic southern Democrat)."
In a state where election results lurch back and forth between Republican and Democrat, party swapping and personal rebranding can become tools to capture voters.
Jones becomes a Republican
Walter B. Jones, Jr. began his political career as a Democrat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, where he served five terms. Jones' father, Walter B. Jones, Sr., represented North Carolina's first Congressional District. When the elder Jones died in 1992, Jones Jr. sought the Democratic nomination for the First Congressional District.
He lost.
In 1994 Jones switched parties and ran as a Republican in North Carolina's third Congressional District race. He won, and has served 10 consecutive terms in Congress.
When the French government refused to support the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Jones and fellow Republican Bob Ney made headlines by demanding that cafeterias serving the House of Representatives rename their French fries "freedom fries" and their French toast "freedom toast."
In 2005 Jones told reporters that he regretted the demand.
He came to regret his vote for the invasion, as well. In 2007 Jones became the only Republican to co-sponsor a nonbinding resolution to disapprove of then-President Bush's plan to send 20,000 additional troops to Iraq.
His anti-war stance lead several House Democrats to urge him to switch parties.
He declined.
Jason R. Thigpen: Veteran Activist, Decorated Iraq War Vet
Jason R. Thigpen is a former Army Sergeant. He served seven years was awarded a Purple Heart while deployed an a combat mission to Iraq.
When Thigpen returned to the United States and enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, he discovered the UNC system was charging many returning veterans out-of state tuition. The tuition hike, a result of changes to the GI Bill, was forcing many veterans to drop out of degree programs.
In response, Thigpen helped found the Student Veterans Advocacy Group (SVAG). The non-profit group helps North Carolina veteran students fight for in-state tuition and has sued the University of North Carolina school system, alleging discrimination against veterans.
On March 8, 2012, Thigpen testified before the House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, lobbying Congress to extend in-state tuition to more veterans.
"Veterans just want to collect what was promised to them," he said.
In January Florida Congressman Jeff Miller introduced the G.I. Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013, which would extend in-state tuition to all veterans.
Representative Walter B. Jones was one of the bill's 50 sponsors.
After the bill was introduced, the Fayetteville Observer asked Thigpen why he would run against a Jones, a politician who supported Thigpen's signature cause.
"I have the utmost respect for Congressman Jones and consider him a friend," said Thigpen, "but it's time for a 'changing of the guard' for North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District."
But in a swing state where "Unaffiliated" voters are the fastest-growing registration group and politicians regularly switch parties, who will be the new guard?
More about North Carolina 3rd Congressional District, Jason R Thigpen, Walter B Jones, 2014 Election, north carolina voting
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