Walker wins bitter GOP runoff for 6th district

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Walker with Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson
Walker with Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson

Phil Berger Jr. has conceded to Mark Walker in tonight’s run-off election for the Republican nomination for the 6th Congressional District, in what became a bitter and divisive contest that divided the party in recent weeks.

With all precincts reporting, unofficial balloting showed Walker leading Berger, 60.1percent to 39.9 percent at 9:56 p.m.

A former pastor at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro, Walker built appeal as a populist vowing to change Washington politics-as-usual, while Berger, the Rockingham County district attorney, campaigned as an establishment candidate. He touted his relationship with his father, who is the most powerful Republican in the state Senate, and touted his ability to raise money while an independent super PAC tapped his father’s donors to support the son’s candidacy.

Both candidates attracted support from the tea party, with Walker earning early backing from Conservatives for Guilford County, while Berger recently garnered an endorsement from the Tea Party Express. In many respects, the candidates have been ideologically indistinguishable, while differing in style, with Berger casting himself as unyieldingly right-wing, while Walker has presented a softer approach as someone seeking to convert nonbelievers to the conservative cause. Walker chided Berger for locking himself in by taking a pledge to not vote to raise taxes, while Berger tried with mixed success to portray Walker as soft on illegal immigration.

The contest divided local and state Republicans, with US Rep. Howard Coble, who is retiring from the seat this year, endorsing Berger, along with former Guilford County Commissioner Billy Yow and Greensboro City Councilman Tony Wilkins. Meanwhile, state Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford), Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes and Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson endorsed Walker.

Gillum Ferguson said Berger conceded, but would not be fielding any questions from the press. He added that the campaign staff was taking the rest of the night off to take stock of the election results.

Walker’s win propels him into a contest with Democrat Laura Fjeld in the 6th Congressional District, which is the most competitive in the state.

Registered Democrats hold the largest plurality in the district, but voters have historically favored Republican candidates.

The Fjeld campaign wasted no time in taking their fight to Walker.

“Walker’s extremism has blinded him from the issues that matter,” Fjeld said in a prepared statement. “I am laser focused on the issues people care about: creating jobs, fixing our roads, improving our schools, and cutting wasteful spending. I will work with both sides, be a consensus building, and get the results we need to help families here in North Carolina. I will work to end the Washington gridlock while Mark Walker’s extremism will make it worse. I will be a voice for everyone; Mark Walker will be a voice only for the most extreme segment of our society.”

In other election news, Josh Brannon knocked Gardenia Henley out of contention in the Democratic runoff for the 5th Congressional District, carrying 65.6 percent of the vote to Henley’s 34.4 percent. Brannon will face Republican incumbent Virginia Foxx, a popular arch-conservative from the mountains, in the general election.