GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Former North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker said Thursday that he’s staying in the Republican race for U.S. Senate, despite falling behind top rivals in fundraising and lacking former President Donald Trump’s endorsement for the seat.
Walker, who got in the race nearly 14 months ago, had been weighing a shift to seek a seat in the House, where he served for six years through 2020.
Trump endorsed U.S. Rep Ted Budd for the Senate last June, adding challenges for Walker, a former Baptist minister, to win over Christian conservatives who are also loyal to the former president. Former Gov. Pat McCrory is also in the GOP race.
Walker had put off announcing a decision for several weeks after visiting with Trump last month in Florida. Walker’s campaign said he was offered Trump’s endorsement if he ran for a House seat in central North Carolina.
At a rally at an auto auction facility in Greensboro, attendees listened to singers and speakers for about an hour before Walker’s wife, Kelly, came on with a tearful introduction recalling moments in their relationship. And before she walked off the stage, a cover was pulled off of a red, white and blue bus behind the stage which read “WALKER US SENATE.” At the back of the bus were words saying “The People’s Choice.”
Walker told supporters at his Greensboro announcement that he remained confident that he could win the Senate primary, currently set for May 17. A runoff could be held in the summer if the leading candidate fails to get over 30% of the vote.
“When we stepped away from Congress, it was in our heart to run across North Carolina to be able to take what we’ve been able to do in central North Carolina and take it across the state for the U.S. Senate,” Walker said. “We’re going to stay on that path and we’re going to keep working.”
Jonathan Felts, Budd’s campaign adviser, said in a text message that “it’s a bad sign when a candidate has to re-announce that he’s still an actual candidate” after his campaign committee spent $1.6 million in recent years and Walker has “been campaigning for 14 months yet has nothing to show for it.”
Both McCrory and Budd collected eight times as many campaign dollars than Walker during the third quarter of 2021. Fourth-quarter filings are due early next week. Budd is benefitting from the independent expenditure group Club for Growth Action, which has vowed to spend $10 million to boost his candidacy and attack rivals.
Trump repeated his support Budd earlier this week in a written statement, calling him “the ONLY U.S. Senate candidate in North Carolina who has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
McCrory, who is expected to attract more moderate voters in the primary, has highlighted his accomplishments as governor while also accentuating Trump policies with which he agrees.
A relatively new candidate, military combat veteran Marjorie Eastman, is getting help from another super PAC funding that has spent over $1 million in radio, billboards and social media advertising.
The winner of the Senate GOP primary likely will take on in the general election former Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who is the heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination after her top rivals pulled out in November and December.
The Senate candidates are running to succeed GOP Sen. Richard Burr, who isn’t seeking reelection after three terms. Next November’s outcome could tip the current 50-50 balance in the Senate.
Primary elections already have been delayed from March 8 to mid-May, and it’s possible they could be delayed further if redistricting litigation results in the state Supreme Court ordering maps approved by the General Assembly in November be redrawn.
Oral arguments over the lawsuits alleging illegal partisan gerrymandering and discrimination against Black voters are next week.
A bill now on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk would delay the primary further to June 7. Republican lawmakers who passed it said more time would be needed for the legislature to redraw any districts that the Supreme Court may strike down.