A lot of Republican legislators seem to be getting out of the game these days, certainly in North Carolina where in 2016Sen. Richard Burr announced his eventual retirement in 2022, a few months before he won re-election.
One gets the sense that Burr’s retreat comes from a place of apprehension about the direction of his party and his own place in it. During his 2010 re-election campaign, Burr proclaimed: “No one can get to the right of me.” Nowadays, the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence comes across to the GOP base as weak coffee that’s sat out too long. Still, Burr will be a reliable party vote when the impeachment trial begins.
Rep. Mark Walker, who announced on Monday that he would not seek re-election in the redistricted 6th District — Too many Democrats! — plays a different game.
Walker rose through the tea party and Conservatives for Guilford County, which formed at the church where he was the minister of music. He won the seat once held by Howard Coble in 2014, handily defeating Democrat Laura Fjeld in the district cut just for him. But even though he’s represented most of Greensboro for his entire political career, he knows he can’t win in the new cut, which gathers the cities of Greensboro and Winston-Salem together in one district for the first time.
The day before he formally announced his withdrawal from the House race, Walker hinted that he has eyes on the Senate, telling Fox News personality Neil Cavuto that he’s been encouraged to run for Burr’s seat in 2022.
That’s a big shift from the conventional wisdom, that had Walker trying to primary Sen. Thom Tillis, who is up for re-election in 2020 and with whom the party faithful have become less than enamored.
Tillis has the lowest approval ratings of anyone in Congress, according to an October poll, at 33 percent, with 38 percent straight-up disapproving of everything he does, which is saying something because he doesn’t do all that much.
But thus far, he’s running unencumbered by a primary challenger — NC GOP insider Garland Tucker had filed to run against him but decided against it at the last minute, even after raising $1.3 million for the campaign. Presumptive challenger Sandy Smith has yet to file.
Tillis, whom Politico named as “Trump’s new best friend” in November, seems to have some protection as he heads into his November race against likely Democrat challenger Cal Cunningham — enough so that Walker, who could certainly raise enough funds to mount a primary challenge, would rather wait two years than go against the grand plan.