This story was originally published by NC Newsline, story by Joe Killian

Former Congressman Mark Walker will join the race for the GOP nomination for governor later this month, according to sources close to the campaign.

Walker telegraphed his intentions publicly for the first time Tuesday after months of teasing a possible run, with a statement from Tim Murtaugh, vice president of  communication for National Public Affairs, which is advising Walker.

“He and his wife, Kelly, have heard from pastors, officials and groups across North Carolina, all encouraging him to run, and have been discussing it and praying about it with their close friends and family,” Murtaugh wrote in the statement. “Because Democrats will be putting everything they have into the coming race, it’s essential that Republicans nominate a candidate who can withstand the scrutiny of a gubernatorial election. Mark looks forward to sharing his decision with the voters on May 20th.”

Walker, a former pastor from Greensboro who represented North Carolina’s sixth congressional district for three terms, joins a GOP field that already includes Lt. Governor Mark Robinson and State Treasurer Dale Folwell. State Attorney General Josh Stein is the only Democrat who has announced a run for governor.

Robinson has been criss-crossing the state for more than a year, teasing a gubernatorial run. He has gained a national profile through frequent controversial remarks, including anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ statements. But they’ve also drawn heat from state and national groups and made him nearly the sole target of Democrats in the race so far. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (Photo: Screen grab from NRA video stream)

Walker is no stranger to tough races or out-campaigning big names. In 2014 Walker, then a political unknown, triumphed in a crowded GOP field to replace former Congressman Howard Coble. He bested a series of well-established political names, including winning a tough run-off with Phil Berger Jr., son of the powerful President Pro Tem of the North Carolina Senate.

Walker chose not to seek re-election after redistricting shifted his district, making it significantly more Democratic. Instead, he ran for a U.S. Senate seat but failed to secure the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Walker stayed in the GOP senate primary instead, but lost to Ted Budd, who Trump did endorse.

Sheriff BJ Barnes (right) endorsed Mark Walker for Congress.
Former Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes (right) endorsed Mark Walker for Congress.

Walker and Robinson were once close, with Walker partially responsible for his political rise after he shared a video of Robinson making an impassioned pro-gun speech at a Greensboro City Council meeting. With Walker’s social media push, the video went viral. Walker then introduced Robinson to political and religious circles that helped him raise his profile and have helped propelled him to a brand of conservative political celebrity as Lt. Governor. Their relationship cooled after Robinson failed to endorse Walker against Budd, however, backing Trump’s chosen candidate instead. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson poses with former U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker. (Photo: Screen grab from Walker’s Twitter feed)

Perhaps learning the lesson of an early high-profile endorsement, word of Walker’s run came a day after retired Hall of Fame NFL coach Tony Dungy offered his support on Twitter, calling Walker “a highly principled Christian leader.”

One notable line from Tuesday’s statement from Walker’s advisor said Republicans need “a candidate who can withstand the scrutiny of a gubernatorial election.” That aligns with some concerns in GOP circles that Robinson’s penchant for dramatic and controversial statements could be a liability in a high-stakes, statewide race.

Walker and Robinson were — along with former U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn — repeated guest speakers at events put on by the conservative religious group The American Renewal Project, a group that denies a separation of church and state in America and seeks to recruit and elect Christian evangelicals. Cawthorn’s frequent controversial comments and behavior, including frequent Christian nationalist statements, put a quick end to his burgeoning political career. Political experts in the state have questioned whether that brand of rhetoric, which became popular with the political ascent of Trump, has broad statewide appeal.

Both Walker and Folwell have suggested their brand of conservative politics may play better than Robinson’s in the general election.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: [email protected]. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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