RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)
An Iraq War veteran campaigning for Congress in eastern North Carolina against U.S. Rep. Walter Jones has changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat, saying the tea party has made the GOP too extreme.
In a statement on his website Thursday, former U.S. Army Sgt. Jason R. Thigpen said the recent federal government shutdown triggered his switch.
“I simply cannot stand with a party where its most extreme element promote hate and division amongst people,” said Thigpen, 36. “Nothing about my platform has, nor will it change. The government shutdown was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. I guess being an American just isn’t good enough anymore and 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.”
Such a switch is not unprecedented. Third District incumbent Jones pulled off the reverse move in 1994, becoming a Republican after losing a Democratic primary two years earlier.
During his years in office, Jones has rankled the conservative wing of his party on issues that include his opposition to the war in Iraq after initially supporting the 2003 invasion. Jones has typically voted with his party hardliners on fiscal issues, however. Last month, he voted against the measure to reopen the federal government on the grounds that the legislation didn’t defund the Affordable Care Act.
Jones’ campaign declined to comment Friday about Thigpen’s party switch.
Also in the race is Taylor Griffin, a former aide to President George W. Bush who has worked as a GOP strategist in Washington. Griffin announced last month he would return to his native North Carolina to challenge Jones in the Republican primary.
Thigpen, who was awarded a Purple Heart while serving a combat tour in Iraq, helped found a group that advocates for veterans who go back to college. He lives in Holly Ridge with his wife and four children.
Thigpen said he wouldn’t change any of his policy positions after changing his affiliation, including stanch support for gun rights. While still a Republican earlier this year, he called out the party’s leaders for a bill making sweeping changes to the state’s voting laws, saying the measure was more about partisan gain than preventing voter fraud.
On Thursday, Thigpen said the gridlock in Congress fueled by the GOP’s lockstep opposition to compromise is harming the country.
“Regardless of Party affiliation, we should be able to agree and agree to disagree on issues, and still go out for coffee or dinner afterwards,” he said. “To think anyone can despise, loath, insult, and threaten another American simply because of their Party affiliation is almost depressing.”