A harsh Republican Party fight for a shot at an open North Carolina congressional seat goes to Mark Walker in a bit of a surprise to area Republicans.
GOP voters in the district that runs along the Virginia border from Mount Airy to north of Raleigh picked Baptist minister Mark Walker of Greensboro over Phil Berger Jr. of Eden. Berger is the Rockingham County district attorney and son of powerful state Senate leader Phil Berger.
Walker won 56 percent of the vote in unofficial returns and now advances to face Democrat and retired University of North Carolina system administrator Laura Fjeld in November. The winner will replace 30-year GOP incumbent Howard Coble in the heavily Republican 6th Congressional District. Coble is retiring.
Walker prevailed in Surry County as well, though the race was a little tighter there. Walker took 1,007 votes, or 53.54 percent of those cast, according to the Surry County Board of Elections. With 28 of 29 precincts reporting, Berger had 874 votes, or 46.4 percent of the total.
Some found the results surprising, after Berger nearly won the nomination in May, taking 37 percent of the vote in a four-way race. Under election law, he needed 40 percent of the vote to advance. Instead, he squared off against the second-place challenger from that first vote, Walker, who recorded just 24 percent of the vote in the May primary.
Berger also raised twice as much money as did Walker. As of June 25, the latest date fundraising reports were available, Berger had raised more than $192,000, while Walker’s campaign had taken in about $94,000.
Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff featured Walker and Berger trading accusations of cronyism, lying, and incompetence. Last week, Berger accused Walker of lying even about what college he attended, citing Walker’s Facebook page as stating he had attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
“That’s a complete fabrication,” Walker responded, adding that he never claimed to attend UNC-G. The former Baptist pastor said he was trained in biblical studies from what is now called Piedmont International University in Winston-Salem.
He claimed the Facebook inaccuracies were the result of someone hacking into his account there.
Tuesday’s vote was limited to registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters who had taken part in the May GOP primary vote.
The race was, at least to Walker, a case of a GOP insider and establishment candidate — Berger — against someone who refused to be influenced by big donors and special interest groups.
Walker lined up local endorsements and small donors while Berger drew support from tea party groups, big-money political action committees, current Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation, and Coble himself.
“Most people would say that we’re 90-95 percent similar on the issues,” Walker said prior to Tuesday’s vote. “There may be some small differences. Of course anyone running for Congress has all those Republican talking points memorized. I think that the true difference is approach. To me, good leaders are those who are able to build trust and relationships in their community. That’s something I’ve been able to do here.”
Walker said he has sworn off contributions from lobbyists or PACs to that if he gets he won’t owe special interests.
“It’s part of the corruption that is Washington D.C.,” he said. “On this quest, I began to wonder, is it still possible to get one of the people to Congress without being groomed by the political process that feeds the system?”
Berger touted his experience as a key strength, saying he was twice elected district attorney and is a former president of the statewide association for prosecutors.
“Those are positions that require deliberation, thought and the ability to work with a wide variety of people. My opponent does not have that background,” Berger said. “I think the chief difference between the two of us is I have a history of making tough decisions for the people of North Carolina.”