North Carolina candidate tests GOP efforts to elect more women

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Testing Republican efforts to send more women to Washington, Republican pediatrician Joan Perry is running to filling the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Walter Jones in North Carolina’s Third Congressional District and faces a primary runoff election Tuesday. Perry, a conservative who touts her opposition to abortion and her background as a pediatrician of over 30 years, is facing off against fellow Republican State Rep. Greg Murphy in the runoff. 

Perry’s rise to the top of the once 17-strong GOP field comes amid a push by the Winning for Women (WFW) Action Fund, which launched its “20 in 20” initiative focused on electing 20 Republican women to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020. North Carolina’s Third Congressional District is the first race the group is participating in and will effectively serve as a case study for future races in the year to come. 

“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,”  said WFW AF Executive Director Rebecca Schuller. 

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The WFW Action Fund was created following the 2018 midterm elections, when Rep. Carol Miller was the only non-incumbent Republican woman to win an election to the House. The total number of GOP women in the House is 13 — that’s significantly lower than the Democrats’ stronghold of 89 members. 

“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,” added Schuller. 

The group has already spent $500,000 to support Dr. Perry in her race against Murphy, also a doctor. Ultimately, the winner of Tuesday’s runoff will take on former Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas, who won a six-candidate Democratic primary by attracting 50% of the votes cast. 

With WFW’s help, Perry has so far appealed to voters as an outsider who has never run for office. 

“The fact that Dr. Perry, a political outsider, earned enough votes for a runoff proves that voters have an appetite for electing qualified Republican women and that critical primary support will help get them there,” said Schuller. 

“Our work in NC-03 shows we are serious about playing in primaries to elect more women. We’re proud that Dr. Perry was our first endorsement, and we look forward to getting her over the finish line.” 

Joan Perry Joan Perry for Congress

Rep. Elise Stefanik. D-New York, told CBS News at a Winning for Women event in June that support of Perry’s campaign also “helps candidates to realize that there is a calvary if you show that you are a strong candidate who has earned that support.”

“I have calls with women who are considering running decided to run and are working on having a strong campaign or they’re even planning for potential open seats that are from redder districts where they see a potential retirement on horizon,” Stefanik, who has her own PAC called E-PAC that donates to female candidates, told CBS. 

Celeste Cairns – who lost to Perry in the first primary — told CBS that Perry’s “voice on the life issue will be important as a woman and a pediatrician.”

Cairns, who has since endorsed Perry and will be with the campaign Tuesday evening as the results come in, said she was impressed with the candidate “from the moment I met her.”

“I think her personality could be influential to bring people towards conservatives.”

Perry meanwhile told CBS News that she’s “encouraged and humbled” by the support by WFW AF as well as an endorsement by the Susan B. Anthony List. Perry has also received support from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the form of robocalls for the first-time candidate. 

“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 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, that’s even more likely to be true for Tuesday’s runoff election. Just 14.5% — 68,781 of the 473,561 eligible voters — cast ballots in the Republican and Democratic primaries at the end of April.

“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,” Republican consultant Barney Keller told CBS News. 

The general election, scheduled for Sept. 10, also will also have a Libertarian and Constitution party nominee on the ballot to succeed Jones, a Republican who had held the seat for 13 terms. He died in February at the age of 76.

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. 

Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.

Ellee Watson contributed to this report. 

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