Walker chases Berger into runoff in 6th Congressional District

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The Rev. Mark Walker celebrates with his family at the Airport Marriott in Greensboro on election night.

by Jordan Green

In a night electric with uncertainty and possibility, Mark Walker chased Phil Berger Jr. into a runoff for the Republican nomination fight to replace US Rep. Howard Coble in the 6th Congressional District, polling 25.2 percent to Berger’s 34.3 percent, with 234 of 241 precincts reporting.

With neither candidate polling more than 40 percent, Walker, a Baptist pastor from Greensboro, and Berger, the district attorney in Rockingham County and son of a powerful state lawmaker, will continue to campaign to a runoff scheduled for July 15.

Walker appeared in front of his supporters in a meeting room at the Airport Marriott in Greensboro after 11 p.m. to announce that he would continue into the runoff.

“I’ve heard many promises over the past several months over what this or that candidate may do and I think it’s good we have been reminded it’s people before politics,” Walker said. “It’s still ‘we the people.’”

Berger polled only a couple hundred votes ahead of Walker in Guilford County, where the pastor lives. Berger attributed his first-place finish to his campaign’s emphasis on “ending Obamacare and conservative Christian values.”

“We intend to work hard every day and focus on Barack Obama and liberal policies coming out of Washington,” Berger said of his efforts to unite the party behind his candidacy. “I think one of the reasons we have done so well, we have provided solutions that will help working Americans.”

Berger downplayed the impact of his father’s name on his first place finish.

“I’ve got a track record,” he said. “I’m a proven conservative that the voters can trust,” he said. “I stood up for marriage. I stood up for gun owners’ rights. The voters know I’m a proven conservative.”

Walker emphasized a soft approach in remarks that seemed geared towards converting skeptical Democrats.

“We’ve been hit with negative attack ads, and we expect to be hit by a few more,” he said. “We want you to continue to take that high road, and we believe the Lord blesses that every time. We’re not going to talk about repealing this or that. 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 kind of hearts.”

Primary election night ended the dream for slew of congressional hopefuls who had sought the Coble seat, including retired banker Bruce VonCannon, with 11.5 percent; Greensboro Councilman Zack Matheny, polling 11.4 percent; Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips, with 7.9 percent; High Point GOP activist Don Webb, with 4.3 percent, and Greensboro businessman Mike Causey with 3.2 percent.

On the Democratic side of the ballot, Laura Fjeld of Orange County prevailed over Guilford County Commissioner Bruce Davis, 56.1 percent to 43.9 percent.

Fjeld, who formerly served as general counsel for the University of North Carolina System, carried including Davis’ home turf of Guilford.

Fjeld expressed optimism about her chances of success against whomever is eventually chosen as the Republican nominee in the 6th District, where Democrats hold the largest plurality of voters despite a history of supporting Republican candidates.

“People in North Carolina are ready for a voice like mine,” Fjeld said. “I’m a mom. I’ve worked all my life to provide for my kids. I know how to balance a budget. I’m not a career politician. I know the issues in North Carolina. I think that will outweigh my opposition, which is politics as usual.”

Fjeld said she doesn’t expect her Orange County residency to hinder her in connecting with general-election voters in Guilford County, where the bulk of the district’s population is located.

“I think we did really well in Guilford county and Greensboro and throughout the district,” she said. “I’ve been meeting and talking with many people throughout the district and delivering my message. I think we all recognize that Washington is broken and it needs fixing and I’m the candidate to do that. Whoever the eventual nominee is in the other party, they represent the same thing. That is special interests, cronyism and politics usual. People are tired of that.”

In the Republican primary for US Senate, state House Speaker Thom Tillis prevailed over a slate of GOP candidates hungry to unseat Democrat Kay Hagan in the fall. Tillis carried 45.7 percent of the vote in unofficial balloting — well above the 40-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff — carrying both Guilford and Forsyth counties. His closest opponent, Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon polled 27.1 percent, while Charlotte pastor Mark Harris took 17.6 percent of the vote.