CURRITUCK, N.C.

The largest field of candidates possibly in state history is running for the congressional seat left open by the death last month of incumbent Walter Jones.

Twenty-six candidates filed to run in the special election April 30, including three physicians, three members of the state general assembly, some former Marines, sailors and soldiers, the former president of the Civitas Institute, a pastor and a country music singer who had a hit in 1994.

There are 17 republicans, six democrats, two libertarians and one member of the Constitution Party.

Three hail from Currituck County, striving for attention in the large field. 

Veterans of North Carolina politics have never seen or heard of such a large group of candidates, said Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the state's Board of Elections.

Jones died Feb. 10 after winning his 13th term in November to the third district seat in Congress. The district covers much of eastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks, and reaches towns as far south as Jacksonville. It includes about 750,000 people, is 74 percent white and consistently votes republican.

"In a field this big, it really is name recognition," said Carmine Scavo, a political science professor at East Carolina University. "The short election cycle is good for people the voters already know. It's going to be hard for the others to catch on."

Scavo said it is the largest field of candidates he's ever seen in the state.

Phil Law of Jacksonville who ran against Jones in the last two primaries may be the best known, he said. Allen Thomas, a democrat who is director of the North Carolina Global Transpark, could be the most recognized among democrats and might have a chance in the general election, he said. The Global Transpark is a 2,500-acre industrial site based in Kinston.

Candidates from larger towns could have an advantage, Scavo said. Three candidates are from Greenville with a population of about 92,000. The long list of republicans depend on the same financial backers.

"There's not a whole lot of money to go around," he said.

Candidates from smaller communities such as Currituck are using websites, signs and meetings with constituents at public forums to get their names out.

The population of Currituck County is about 26,000, but counties and towns in the northeastern corner combine for about 100,000 people.

Currituck commissioner Paul Beaumont is campaigning all over the district including stops this week in New Bern, Beaufort, Pitt County and the Outer Banks, he said. He is banking in part on his military experience as a Navy pilot with a bachelor's degree from the U.S. Naval Academy. He works in the defense industry in Hampton Roads. Military issues and defense spending are important in the district and are crucial to economic development here, he said.

"I have a legitimate chance," he said.

Currituck physician Kevin Baiko of Moyock hopes he is set apart from others by his stance on cannabis.

"I'm standing up on the side of compassion to say what few republican politicians in Carolina have the courage to acknowledge — that being a republican and a Christian and an advocate for medical cannabis legalization aren't mutually exclusive," he said in an email.

Jones voted against the policies of President Donald Trump nearly half the time, the most of any republican in the House, Scavo said. Some of the candidates back Trump 100 percent and some say they would be more like Jones.

All three from Currituck support conservative issues, but say they would not vote lock-step with Trump.

Currituck County commissioner and candidate Mike Payment said he would listen and gather information before making decisions.

"This is how I will continue in Congress," he said.

If no candidate gets at least 30 percent of the vote in the April 30 primary, and if the second place finisher calls for it, the top two will run in a second primary scheduled for July 9. A general election is set for July 9 unless the second primary is necessary. If so, then the general election will be held Sept. 10.

Scavo expects there will be a second primary.

"I would be surprised if anybody got 30 percent," he said.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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