by Eric Ginsburg
Former pastor Mark Walker, a Republican with close ties to Conservatives for Guilford County, won the race for North Carolina’s 6th US Congressional district on Tuesday.
The first cheer from the well-heeled crowd at Life Community Church just outside of Greensboro came around 8:15, as two large screens flanking the main stage showed Mark Walker leading with 67 percent of the vote. The applause continued 30 minutes later, even as the Republican candidate who nearly lost the primary tumbled to 55 percent over opponent Laura Fjeld, the crowd apparently unaware or unfazed.
Before long Walker’s numbers nudged back up to 57 percent, lingering around there as enough of the results came in for Fjeld to give in. Ardent Walker supporters, most of them appearing to be upper-middle class church folks and a number of them in campaign T-shirts, filled round tables set up on the floor of the gym in the massive megachurch.
Two kids wearing military garb played in front of the stage, on which stood nine US flags. A backdrop showed an image of the Constitution large enough that even the oldest members of the audience could likely read “We the people” from the back of the room. Servers mixed with the crowd, offering fruit, biscuits, mac & cheese and other snacks to complement the nuts and cookies out on tables.
Walker remained out of sight, behind a door guarded by a man with a wire in his ear that made him look like a Secret Service agent. It was a fitting vibe for a campaign in which Walker told his staff he would “act like a Congressman but think like a constituent.” A tall woman with a fringe American flag bag and matching American flag heels chatted with the security agent, who periodically opened a door at the back of the room to allow certain people in and out.
People killed time checking their phones for updates, arguing about whether enough precincts were in to call it yet. At a reserved table for staff at the front of the room, members of Walker’s team hunched over a laptop but maintained poker faces as the results came in. The screens above had switched from scrolling the incoming results to campaign signs, and upbeat country music kicked back in.
Then without warning shortly after 9 p.m., a campaign staffer climbed the steps to the stage and declared Walker victorious. The room erupted in support, though of the kind of tempered enthusiasm appropriate for a crowd that likely never doubted their candidate would take home the title that night. As the staffer quoted Psalm 37 and George W. Bush, Walker’s extensive family filed onto the stage.
Walker’s remarks were unsurprising to those that have heard him speak before — polite, charismatic and yet firm on the need to get the federal government “out of the way of the American Dream.” After graciously acknowledging Fjeld and mentioning that she called him to concede the race, Walker proceeded to talk about the importance of teamwork and service.
Before he was done, the former preacher would refer to his faith several times, as he has consistently throughout the campaign, and close with a passage from Deuteronomy. Walker seamlessly transitioned from quoting Martin Luther King Jr. about the importance of service to others, imploring the audience to actively work to make the world a better place, to talking about how Ronald Reagan is his political hero.
Walker, who referred to himself as a common man with extraordinary people around him, noted that his campaign didn’t spend a dollar on negative ads. Fjeld’s camp regularly issued press releases attacking Walker’s stances on a variety of election issues, from his statements about sending fighter jets to bomb Mexico to his anti-abortion positions.
Across town at the Greensboro Coliseum, Fjeld took the stage just minutes after Walker descended from his and shook several hands before disappearing again behind closed doors. Noting that Walker had been “nothing but a gentleman” during the campaign, the former UNC system general counsel publicly announced her concession.
“I want to thank all the people who have fought with me to give the tea party a run for their money,” she said. “We took the battle to them and fought as hard as we could… I challenge Mark to be guided by his strong faith, to do the right thing for the people of North Carolina and working-class families like he said he would.”
Almost two hours later not all of the precincts in the 6th Congressional District that was for so long held by Republican Howard Coble, but Walker’s lead remained steady with more than 58 percent of the vote.
As of press time at 11:30 p.m. on Election Day, the only three precincts in the district that hadn’t reported were in Guilford County. Walker, unlike Fjeld, hails from the county, where he led his opponent by more than 12,000 votes with 55.6 percent of the total with 106 out of 109 precincts reporting.