When Marjorie Eastman took the debate stage Saturday during the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Liberty Conference, she joined two experienced Republican leaders, former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Greensboro-area U.S. Rep. Mark Walker. They are frequent debaters with years of prominence in Republican policy and politics.
Eastman was the fresh face, new to the party landscape. In the debate, however, she is not just new to the Republican U.S. Senate primary. She is new to organized Republican politics. She has never voted in a N.C. Republican primary and only registered to vote as a Republican six weeks before entering the U.S. Senate race.
As recently as 2018, Eastman was involved with an organization that helps elect veterans into leadership roles, including Democrats.
The John Locke Foundation debate got heated when McCrory said, “I need to tell Marjorie, also: You’re new to North Carolina, and you’re also new to the Republican Party.”
Eastman responded forcefully.
“Real quick, governor, you can refer to me as Ms. Eastman. Next, did you serve in the military? No. So let me help you out. The military tells you where to live. Twenty years ago, I was assigned here at Fort Bragg, and that’s actually where I met my husband. The military moved us all around since, and we knew this would be our forever home.
“When my husband retired from the military, we were proud to come home to North Carolina because we fell in love here in 2002 and 2003 and I vowed to be a North Carolinian,” Eastman added. “I find it particularly insulting that you had to go there. That’s very disappointing.”
Eastman says she was registered as a Republican when she was in college. In a post-debate interview with Carolina Journal, Eastman said she changed her status to unaffiliated when she joined the military so she could keep politics out of her military service.
“I’m not ashamed of that, and I’m proud of every veteran that does that,” Eastman said.
When questioned by CJ why she did not change her registration to Republican after her military service concluded around 2012, she pointed out she was still a “military spouse.”
Active-duty military are covered by the Hatch Act and Defense Department policy that limits some political activity by service members, such as showing support for, or opposition to, political parties or partisan political groups while on duty, in a government room or building, wearing an official uniform or insignia, or using a government vehicle.
No government regulations require active-duty military to register as unaffiliated. There are no regulations that limit the political activity of military spouses, according to militaryspouses.com.
Eastman has a compelling autobiography that makes her stand out in the Republican primary field. She’s the only competitive female candidate, the only veteran, the only veteran’s spouse, a published author, and a mom to a young boy who is a cancer survivor. The 41-year-old has raised an impressive amount of money in a short amount of time. She is sparking interest with party volunteers and donors. Eastman enlisted in the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has repeatedly said in interviews and speeches that the shameful Afghanistan withdrawal was her “second 9/11.” She says it was at that moment that she decided to run for U.S. Senate.
Eastman embraces her fresh entry into politics and attacks her fellow Republican primary opponents as “career politicians.”
“We need battle-tested leaders, not career politicians, and I look at the others in the primary, and they are just like President [Joe] Biden,” Eastman said when she joined the race in October 2021. “If you add them all up, they have over four decades of being politicians, and we are not gonna get different results if we don’t send different people.”
It is an interesting line of attack against her main primary rivals. Walker, 52, a former evangelical preacher, served six years in the U.S. House from 2015-21, his only elected office.
Fifty-year-old U.S. Rep. Ted Budd was first elected to the U.S. House in 2016. His five years in Congress is also the only time he has served in elected office. Attacking career politicians is a common refrain among political newcomers. It’s a quick and easy soundbite, and it gets applause.
It’s an easier attack on former Charlotte mayor McCrory. As a three-time GOP nominee for governor, McCrory has been among the most prominent N.C. Republicans for over a decade. But even while he was mayor of Charlotte, he still worked at Duke Energy, and his only full-time political job was serving as governor for four years.
Eastman often says that the Founding Fathers would not approve of people who spend their entire lives in elected office. However, George Washington was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1758 and served there until 1765 and maintained his activity in colonial political affairs until the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson served in the House of Burgesses from 1769 until 1775, the Virginia House of Delegates starting in 1776, and was elected governor for two one-year terms in 1779 and 1780. Abraham Lincoln spent most of his adult life either in office or running for one.
As part of her populist appeal to voters, Eastman declared in her campaign announcement video that she would limit herself to only two terms. “I’m not there to put up a tent and make this a career,” she said. Eastman calls herself a conservative who is pro-life and pro-Second Amendment. She warned of “creeping socialism” in the nation’s capital.
In an Oct. 5 Associated Press story, Eastman declined to say whether she accepts that Biden was the legitimate 2020 winner and got over 7 million more popular votes than former President Trump. “When you look at what we see as the results, we are still having this question. The fact that you’re still asking me this question is the answer to the question,” Eastman said.
Eastman said her campaign’s focus would be security, the economy, and education, including helping move the country through the pandemic.
Eastman joined the Army Reserves and was awarded a direct commission within two years, according to her biography. She was an intelligence officer and commander and was awarded the Bronze Star. She served in Iraq in 2003 and in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010.
“I’m the political outsider. I’m independent. I served in combat as a commander and intelligence officer. None of those other guys have done that,” she said in the debate.
Eastman wrote a 2016 book about her service, “The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11.” She holds an MBA from Vanderbilt and has a master’s degree in international security. Eastman met her husband while stationed at Fort Bragg in the early 2000s. When they finally had the option of where to live, they chose Cary in 2018.
North Carolina has been represented by two women to the U.S. Senate — Republican Elizabeth Dole (2003-09) and Democrat Kay Hagan (2009-15).
According to a 2019 news release, Eastman created a military-themed version of playing cards to be sold by Bicycle. Each of the 52 cards represented veteran businesses and charities.
“In 2003, the Most Wanted Iraqi playing cards targeted those who led by fear — this deck of cards features 52 organizations that lead by inspiration,” she said. “Each represents how the post-9/11 military community is taking care of each other, our communities, and rising to opportunities and challenges here at home.”
Eastman was on the advisory board of With Honor, a “cross-partisan” organization whose slogan is “Issues Before Politics.” It’s a political action committee dedicated to “promoting and advancing principled veteran leadership in order to reduce polarization” by elected veterans of both parties to office.
While Eastman was an adviser in 2018, the PAC endorsed 19 Democrats, such as Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Rep. Connor Lamb of Pennsylvania. It also endorsed left-wing firebrands Richard Ojeda of West Virginia and Amy McGrath of Kentucky. According to the With Honor website, Eastman is no longer with the group. During her time affiliated with the organization, it received a $10 million gift from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos.
Eastman registered as a Republican for the first time in North Carolina just a month and a half before she began her campaign for Senate. She registered to vote in North Carolina in November 2018 as an unaffiliated voter, and she maintained that affiliation after changing her voting address several weeks before the 2020 election, on Sept. 23.
Eastman changed her registration to Republican on Aug. 23, 2021, announcing her campaign for U.S. Senate 43 days later. Eastman has also only voted in one N.C. election, the 2020 general election. CJ could find no records showing Eastman has donated to any political campaigns, Republican or otherwise.
Eastman was previously registered to vote in Tennessee. Registration and voter participation records are not public records to non-Tennessee citizens.
In her first campaign filing, Eastman reported raising over $423,000 in the fourth quarter, with $287,000 cash on hand to begin 2022. She has received outside support from Restore Common Sense Inc., a super PAC linked to a Wilmington pharmaceutical executive. The committee has reported spending $1.2 million on pro-Eastman digital media, billboards, and radio ads by mid-January. Independent expenditure groups aren’t permitted to coordinate activities with candidates or their campaigns.