North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones, who was one of the most iconoclastic Republicans in the House, died Sunday on his 76th birthday.
During his 24 years in Congress, Jones put together one of the most eclectic records imaginable and regularly was a thorn in his party’s ass. You don’t even need to take our word for it: In early 2015, Jones himself bragged, “I like to be a thorn in people’s asses.” Most notably, Jones transformed himself from an ardent supporter of the Iraq War to one of the few congressional Republicans to speak out against it during George W. Bush’s presidency.
Perhaps appropriately, Jones began his long and unusual political career as a Democrat. Jones’ father, Walter Jones Sr., was a Democratic congressman who served from 1966 until he decided to retire in 1992. The younger Jones, who had served as a Democratic state representative for a decade, ran to succeed his father and competed in the primary in the 1st District, which had been extensively redrawn in redistricting and was now majority-black. Jones lost the nomination in a runoff to Eva Clayton, who would be the first African-American to represent North Carolina in the 20th Century, by a 55-45 margin; the elder Jones would die in office a few months later.
Jones switched parties in time for the 1994 Republican wave and also switched districts, challenging 3rd District Democratic Rep. Martin Lancaster, who represented some of the same territory that Jones’ father had once held. Jones made sure to tie the four-term incumbent to President Bill Clinton, who’d become very unpopular in districts like this one, even running a campaign ad that showed the two Democrats jogging together. Jones unseated Lancaster 53-47, and he never faced a close general election again.