Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2022, is seriously considering a run for governor, setting up a potential primary showdown with presumed Republican front-runner Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.
In a text message to The Assembly, Walker confirmed he’s taking meetings about a possible gubernatorial run. Two close advisers said the Republican will be in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss his potential candidacy with members of the Republican Governors Association.
Kyle Van Zandt, who managed Walker’s congressional campaign in 2014, and political adviser John Walker (no relation), described the former congressman as a better general election prospect for Republicans than the lieutenant governor.
“There’s a lot of doubt that Robinson can deliver a win in the general election,” Van Zandt said. “A lot of people are looking for other viable candidates for this. Walker has a proven track record of standing firm in his principles and not alienating people who may not agree with him.”
The advisers said Walker has met with several North Carolina donors, party leaders and governors from other states to discuss a possible run, including Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
The former Greensboro-area congressman made an unsuccessful primary bid for the U.S. Senate seat last year, placing third behind Ted Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory.
“There is no official campaign right now, but we know that Mark loves North Carolina, he loves the people of North Carolina, and we know that those dynamics are at the forefront of his mind as he processes this situation,” said adviser John Walker. He acknowledged the former lawmaker is also considering political consulting work and another run for Congress.
A primary run against Robinson would be an uphill climb for Walker and other potential challengers — including State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who has said he may enter the race.
Robinson, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, has raised a lot of funds and has a wide base of GOP support that includes former President Donald Trump.
Robinson has not yet announced his candidacy, but entered 2023 with $2.23 million in his campaign coffers according to his most recent state filing. Walker’s latest federal campaign filing shows he began this year with less than $23,000.
Some Republicans, however, are concerned about Robinson as their standard-bearer in 2024. His denouncements of LGBTQ rights and assertion that K-12 education on race and sexuality are “indoctrination” have captured headlines within the state and beyond. He’s also called for a total prohibition on abortion, despite paying for one himself.
While the lieutenant governor hasn’t announced a gubernatorial campaign, he retweeted results of a partisan poll on Twitter last month showing him in a statistical tie with Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein in a hypothetical general election matchup. Stein kicked off his campaign last month with a heavy focus on Robinson.
Conrad Pogorzelski III, Robinson’s political adviser, said the lieutenant governor isn’t worried about Walker.
“Anyone doubting whether Lt. Gov. Robinson can win the general election or thinks anyone can challenge him in the primary for Governor clearly hasn’t looked at the numbers,” Pogorzelski said in a statement. “Robinson is beating Josh Stein in a recent poll, and is comfortably ahead of everyone in the polls for the Republican primary, including Walker by more than 50%.”
But Van Zandt said Walker’s strength could come from unlikely coalitions.
“The ability to maintain his conservative principles while building bridges with other people is a trait that is needed,” he said. “It’s necessary to win a general election in North Carolina.”
Bryan Anderson is a freelance reporter who most recently covered elections, voting access, and state government for WRAL-TV. He previously reported for the Associated Press and The News & Observer. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.