A fight for the right in 6th Congressional District

Chris Hardin

First-time candidate and police officer Chris Hardin challenges one-term incumbent Congressman Mark Walker in an upcoming special election to decide the Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District.

Congressman Mark Walker stunned many observers when he defeated political heavyweight Phil Berger Jr. — the son of North Carolina’s Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr. — in a Republican primary runoff election two summers ago. Low-turnout special elections such as that 2014 race can create unpredictable political conditions, and that’s exactly what Walker’s challenger is hoping will happen this June.

North Carolina’s 6th Congressional district is one of two that will appear on ballots in Guilford County during a special election this summer — the county is split between the redrawn 6th and 13th districts. Voters in Forsyth County will vote in the 5th district primary.

In the 6th district, first-time candidate Chris Hardin of Browns Summit aims to knock Walker out in the Republican contest. He’s counting on turnout from dissatisfied conservative voters who feel — as he does — that Walker isn’t upholding his campaign promises or taking stances that are far enough to the right.

The new 6th district covers about half of Guilford County, with the 13th district spilling in like a wave from the southwest corner and radiating in a semicircle from the High Point area, leaving the northwest, northeast and southeast corners of Guilford County in the 6th district, along with a good portion of Greensboro. The 6th district previously covered a larger portion of Guilford County and stretched along the Virginia border from Surry to parts of Granville County.

The new 6th district is still predominantly rural, but drops Surry, Stokes and parts of Orange, Durham and Granville counties while adding Randolph, Chatham and Lee. The district previously covered much of Alamance County but now blankets all of it. Guilford is the only partial county in the new 6th district, but it’s home to both Republican contenders: Mark Walker of Greensboro and Chris Hardin of Browns Summit.

Hardin was born on a beef cattle farm in Guilford County, and currently works in the pharmaceutical industry and as a reserve police officer in Graham. He previously served in the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard reserve, and worked as a full-time police officer in Graham for eight years as a street cop, school resource officer and in vice/narcotics before switching to reserve status for the last decade.

And he’s pretty mad at Mark Walker.

Hardin says Walker has betrayed the people of the 6th district by not providing the sort of strong conservative leadership they expected when they elected him. As proof, Hardin points to Walker’s support of John Boehner for Speaker of the House as a contradiction of his 2014 campaign pledge to support more conservative leadership. Hardin cited an article published on Breitbart, a popular right-wing news site that names Walker in a piece called “The forked-tongue Freshman Five who told constituents they would vote against Boehner for speaker [and] then broke their promises.”

“It’s disheartening,” Hardin said, referring to Walker and the Republican Congress more generally. “It’s almost like these people think we don’t have a brain.”

Walker could’ve avoided the vote, staying home or voting for someone else for speaker, but because he didn’t, Hardin said: “I think it’s going to cost him this election.”

The same Breitbart article claims that Walker “certainly left many of his constituents with the impression that he would vote against Boehner and for Representative Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC)” but goes on to clarify that “Walker was careful to ‘contextualize’ his comments about his willingness to stand up against Boehner when it was in the interest of his constituents” and provided a link to a candidate debate.

The website gives Walker a “Liberty Score” of 75 percent on his voting record — undoubtedly conservative but not enough so for people like Hardin; after all, that’s a “C” grade on the conservative website.

“He’s in lockstep with the [Republican] leadership,” Hardin said. “That unfortunately is not what we the people were told and it’s certainly not what we the people want.

“This guy ran as a conservative,” Hardin added. “I’m not sure he’s a Republican, but he’s certainly not a conservative.”

Congressman Mark Walker
Congressman Mark Walker

Walker could not be reached for comment before press time.

Hardin believes the country is rejecting politics as usual in Washington, DC, fed up with a government that stands with Wall Street and lobbyists rather than properly funding the Veterans Administration or infrastructure needs. Watching the presidential election unfold, it’s easy to see that Hardin’s candidacy is part of a national trend, bucking the Republican establishment in favor of further right stances. What’s interesting is that Walker played the exact same role two years ago when he bested Phil Berger Jr. and ascended to Republican Congressman Howard Coble’s former seat. Coble opted not to run for reelection in 2014 and passed away not too long after leaving office after several decades in the post.

The June Republican primary for the 6th District will hinge on turnout — the special election scheduled after state lawmakers were ordered to redraw gerrymandered Congressional districts is expected to suffer from anemic voter participation.

The change in the district, including the addition of the populous Randolph County, will certainly play a role in the results. It’s possible Hardin’s ties to Graham thru his role as a police officer there could help boost his numbers in Alamance County, the second most populous in the district. But Hardin will need strong support from consistent conservative voters to topple Walker, including many in his native Guilford County.

Hardin describes himself as a constitutional conservative, saying he supports lowering taxes, letting the free market reign and focusing more on national security. He supports building a wall on the Mexican border — “We need to build a wall and we need to build a wall today” — though he added that he doesn’t necessarily support presidential contender Donald Trump’s stance but does believe strongly in deporting violent felons who are undocumented. Hardin’s Facebook campaign page and website include statements in support of North Carolina’s controversial HB2 and the Second Amendment, and his campaign shared a message from a supporter thanking him “for serving our country and for standing up for Christianity.” Hardin’s Facebook campaign page says he will support Cruz or Trump for president, writing, “I possess the constitutionality of Ted Cruz and the spunk of Donald Trump and that causes great concern to the establishment class.”

Hardin’s post goes on to rail against Walker for allegedly supporting Syrian refugee resettlement.

“You see, unlike my opponent who things that we can solve the Syrian refugee problem by getting into a group hug and singing kumbaya, I understand that we are dealing with people that don’t know the words or have any desire to learn them,” Hardin writes.

Hardin cites Walker’s support for HR4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015. The law would have required FBI screening of Iraqi and Syrian refugees in addition to the existing Department of Homeland Security screening. Walker caught flack in Greensboro for his support of a “pause” on the refugee resettlement program over fears that refugees could pose domestic terrorism threats despite the existing admittance process and questionable evidence that any threat exists, but Hardin argues that Walker’s position doesn’t go far enough.

“Where in the Constitution is the ability for the federal government to bring over people that may want to blow us up?” Hardin said, adding that the federal government is involved in many things it shouldn’t be. States should handle schools, he said arguing that the Department of Education and HUD don’t need to exist and that “a good start most days would be half the government shutting down.”

The War on Drugs hasn’t worked, Hardin said, but he doesn’t support legalizing hard drugs and doesn’t necessarily agree with looking at sentencing requirements, adding that, “the bottom line is we can’t move away from the rule of law.”

“The rule of law is under attack because police are under attack,” he said, and while he knows there are some bad officers, the “vast majority” of cops perform their jobs well.

Hardin has other concerns that he says voters in the district share — the Republican Congress’ inability to thwart Obamacare, a lack of employment due in part to trade agreements that destroyed manufacturing jobs and the perception that big government is coming for their guns. But more than any singular issue, Hardin said what separates him from Walker is that he will actually do what he says he’s going to do, something he charges his opponent with failing to carry out and that he’s counting on voters to agree with.