- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2022

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker says there’s more to the Republican Party today than the pro-Trump, anti-Trump factions.

Mr. Walker, who is running for North Carolina’s open Senate seat, said he wants to be part of the growing movement of conservative Republicans who can promote the values of a Trump-friendly “America First” agenda without making it their whole identity.

“The press likes to say you’re in two camps. You’re a ‘never-Trumper’ or you’re in Mitch McConnell land. I don’t think that’s accurate,” Mr. Walker told The Washington Times.

The former congressman said there’s a growing faction in the GOP that is able to strike a balance in the party: remaining forceful on traditional conservative values without being seen as a “rubber stamp” Trump loyalist.

“That’s the biggest growing movement,” Mr. Walker said. “It’s strong conservatives that understand what’s at stake in this country. While there is much appreciation for President Trump, the focus is more on the underlying principles of individualism against collectivism, the conservative value set as opposed to groupthink.”

Mr. Walker is one of several GOP hopefuls looking to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican who was first elected in 2004.

Others in the crowded primary race, set for May 17, include U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, a member of the Freedom Caucus, former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, and Army combat veteran Marjorie Eastman, among others.

The primary winner will likely go on to challenge Democrat Cheri Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Mr. Walker cited border security, public trust in elections and fighting to reverse big government policies as his top campaign issues.

In Congress, Mr. Walker chaired the Republican Study Committee, the largest bloc of conservatives in the House. 

He represented North Carolina’s 6th District, which houses Greensboro, for three terms.

Mr. Walker has also been unafraid to compare his record to the record of Mr. Budd, who is currently serving his third term in Congress.

“Side by side, the contrast of my six years to him in his six years, I don’t think there’s any comparison,” Mr. Walker said. “In Congress right now, you need people who have the mentality to be able to go and lead and stand up in a way that’s respected by your colleagues and have a track record of actually being able to take on the swamp.”

Mr. Walker added that his relationship with Mr. Budd — former President Donald Trump‘s pick in the race — was “friendly” when they were both serving in the House. But his colleague is not the best choice for Senate, Mr. Walker said.

Mr. Budd’s campaign’s dismissed Mr. Walker‘s comments, saying his record was the reason Mr. Trump gave his endorsement.

“President Donald Trump knows Ted Budd and Mark Walker and he knows both their records and their character. Despite Mark Walker‘s pleas, President Donald Trump rejected Walker and instead gave his complete and total endorsement to Ted Budd as the best U.S. Senate candidate and the person who had not wavered from conservative principles and the America First agenda,” said Jonathan Felts, senior advisor to Mr. Budd’s campaign.

He said Mr. Walker‘s comments were “silly” and “a little bit sad, spin.”

Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Budd last summer, and encouraged Mr. Walker to forgo his Senate run for a House run instead, promising his endorsement in return.

Mr. Walker, who turned down the advice, remains confident in his decision to stay in the competitive race, even if it meant rebuffing the former president.

“It’s been since December since that was requested,” Mr. Walker said. “There’s been some other people around him who have reached out, but I have not had a conversation directly with him.”

Polls indicate that Mr. Walker trails Mr. Budd and Mr. McCrory, who leads in voter support.

A head-to-head survey by Club for Growth’s PAC, which is supporting Mr. Budd, shows that the congressman has 43% of support, compared to Mr. McCrory who leads him with 47%. 

The poll carried an error margin of +/-4.4%.

A January poll by Republican polling firm Cygnal had Mr. Walker coming in third behind Mr. Budd and Mr. McCrory.

Mr. McCrory had 24.2%, Mr. Budd had 18.8%, and Mr. Walker had 6.6% of support. Roughly 48% of voters were undecided.

The poll, which surveyed 600 likely GOP primary voters between Jan. 7-9, had an error margin of +/-3.9%.

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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