Former U.S. Representative Mark Walker, of Greensboro, is expected to announce his candidacy for governor of North Carolina on May 20th, adding another contender to the growing list of Republican hopefuls. Walker’s potential announcement comes after Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and State Treasurer Dale Folwell have already declared their candidacies.
Walker’s interest in the gubernatorial race has been the subject of discussion for some time, and recent statements from high-ranking campaign figures suggest that an announcement is imminent. Tim Murtaugh, an advisor to Walker, confirmed that the former congressman is expected to enter the race for the Republican nomination in the coming weeks.
“Because Democrats will be putting everything they have into the coming race, it’s essential that Republicans nominate a candidate who can withstand the scrutiny of a gubernatorial election,” Murtaugh said.
Walker himself expressed gratitude for the encouragement he has received from friends and officials across the state.
“Kelly and I are prayerfully listening and will make an announcement about our plans in the coming weeks,” Walker said.
Hall of Fame NFL Coach Tony Dungy released a statement endorsing Walker for the job on Monday.
“Former Congressman @RepMarkWalker is organizing his campaign to run for Governor of North Carolina,” said Dungy. “I am excited because I believe he is the type of person we need in leadership today-a highly principled Christian leader who is willing to work with, and for, everyone.”
Another prominent NFL retiree who has gained prominence in national Christian circles and been a strong advocate for the pro-life movement, Benjamin Watson, was also listed on the endorsement.
“We need someone who lives out his faith in the political arena, operating with conviction, decency and respect,” Watson said. “That’s why I’m encouraging my friend, former pastor and congressman Mark Walker, to run for governor in North Carolina.”
Walker served as the U.S. representative for North Carolina’s 6th congressional district from 2015 to 2021, winning re-election in 2016 and 2018.
In the 2015 6th District Republican primary, Walker placed second in a field nine before heading to a run-off with Phil Berger Jr, the son of powerful N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger.
Walker went on to win the runoff by a wide margin—60 to 40 percent.
During his tenure in Congress, Walker emerged as a prominent conservative voice, leading the Republican Study Committee and the House Republican Conference. At the time, he gained some visibility for his staunch opposition to the Affordable Care Act and his efforts to repeal the legislation.
Following the redistricting process after the 2020 U.S. Census, Walker was drawn into a heavily Democratic seat. Rather than primarying neighboring then-Congressman Ted Budd, Walker chose not to run for re-election.
Walker ran for U.S. Senate in the 2022 Republican primary, losing to Ted Budd by almost 50 percentage points.
For the 2022 general election, following a tough primary loss, Walker converted his campaign bus and created an organization to help elect conservative judges called “Win the Courts.”
The entrance of both Mark Robinson and Mark Walker into the gubernatorial race adds an interesting dynamic to the Republican primary.
Robinson, who was elected as the state’s highest-ranking Republican in 2020, has garnered significant attention and support within the party. Robinson is an outspoken advocate for conservative causes, especially pertaining to issues such as gun rights and the culture wars. However, Robinson’s endorsement of Budd in the 2022 Republican Senate primary strained his relationship with Walker, who had previously helped elevate Robinson’s profile.
Folwell is also attempting to find his footing in the Republican primary. A native of Winston-Salem, Folwell has been critical of Robinson’s focus on controversial issues.
“Robinson has spent all this time attacking people instead of attacking the important problems that our citizens are facing,” Folwell said.
So far, few Republicans seem to know who Folwell is, according to a recent poll from the John Locke Foundation. Only 18 percent of Republicans surveyed had an opinion of Folwell, compared to 28 percent for Walker and 52 percent for Robinson.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Attorney General Josh Stein stands as the sole announced candidate in the race. With a unified Democratic base and the advantage of incumbency, Stein is positioning himself as a formidable opponent in the general election. However, he will face challenges in winning over moderate and conservative voters in a state that has leaned Republican in recent years.
Stein grew up wealthy and received an Ivy League education before becoming a career politician, which will provide significant contrast with the Republican nominee—at least amongst the current field of candidates.
The Republican field for the nomination may also be influenced by the endorsement and involvement of former President Trump. Trump surprised many by endorsing Ted Budd for the U.S. Senate seat, and he reportedly urged Walker to withdraw from the race and instead run for the U.S. House, a suggestion that Walker ignored. Mark Robinson, who is considered the frontrunner in the Republican race, has campaigned for Trump.
Walker’s candidacy could provide an alternative for voters who have doubts about Robinson’s ability to secure a win in the general election. Polling has consistently indicated that Robinson would dominate any Republican challenger.
However, there is some belief among political prognosticators that the opposition research file on Robinson is so large it could make him beatable in the Republican primary.
The primary election for North Carolina governor will take place on March 5, 2024, along with the presidential primary and many down-ballot races.