US Rep. Howard Coble, took pains to avoid deepening the acrimonious divisions within the GOP when he threw his endorsement behind frontrunner Phil Berger Jr., who is locked in a primary runoff with the Rev. Mark Walker.
The 83-year-old sitting congressman in the 6th Congressional District who is retiring at the end of the year acknowledged that his endorsement has more to do with unifying the party behind a viable candidate than any particular philosophical alignment with Berger over his opponent.
“I’m here to endorse Phil Berger Jr., not to trash Mark Walker,” Coble said.
Underscoring the softness of the congressman’s endorsement of Berger, some of Coble’s family members have endorsed Walker.
“My brother and my nephew have endorsed Mr. Walker,” Coble said. “Someone said, ‘Is that going to affect your relationship with your brother. Unlike the Biblical brothers who were adversarial to one another, my brother and I have always had a very favorable brotherly relationship. I don’t see this relationship ending over the rocks or the shoals.
“The Coble family in that context does not include me,” he added.
In his own remarks about the impending general election contest with Democratic nominee Laura Fjeld, Berger first emphasized money and then his conservative pedigree.
“We want to make sure we nominate someone who has the ability to raise money,” Berger said. “We’ve got a proven track record of raising the most money in this campaign, and we’ll continue to do so. In April we raised almost $120,000, and our May has started out very well also. We want someone who is a conservative, a proven conservative that the voters can look at their track record and see that we’ve stood up for conservative principles like gun-owners’ rights.”
Coble reiterated a concern that the district could flip from Republican to Democratic.
“As a result of redistricting, the district is now a Democrat seat,” he said. “That is to say, there are more Democrat registered voters who live in the 6th District as opposed to registered Republican voters. That’s the bad news for us. The good news is that it is ideologically a solid conservative district, so I think this seat should be retained by Republicans.”
Berger’s “proven conservative” slogan highlights the fact that he has served in elected office — as district attorney in Rockingham County — in contrast to Walker, who recently resigned as an associate pastor at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro to run for Congress.
The “proven conservative” slogan also contrasts with Walker’s efforts to soften the edge of his conservative platform, which might lower the resistance of conservative and moderate Democrats reluctant to cross party lines and vote for a partisan warrior in the fall.
“We’re not going to talk about repealing this or that,” Walker said on primary election night. “In time, we will get to that. But in the days and weeks ahead I want to focus on people who are hurting that we need to reach out to. The job is to take the conservative message and share it with the right kinds of hearts.”
Coble responded with awkwardness to a question about negative attack ads financed by an independent group backing Berger’s candidacy — in contrast to the sitting congressman’s longstanding practice of civility.
“That’s probably not to say,” he said when asked how he feels about the attack ads. “That would be for those involved who promoted them. But let’s face it, folks: Oftentimes partisanship is going to rear its head. That’s part of the game.”