Mark Walker launches North Carolina gubernatorial bid

Former Republican Rep. Mark Walker launched a campaign for North Carolina governor Saturday, pitching himself as the best chance Republicans have to not squander an opportunity to flip a long sought after gubernatorial seat.

Walker’s announcement pits him against Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a MAGA-inspired politican who many in the state assume is the frontrunner to secure the Republican nomination.

The former congressman has said he felt a duty to run because he believed Robinson — who has faced a long list of controversies that include talking about not teaching children about “homosexuality or any of that filth” — would be unelectable in a general election.

In an interview last month, Walker acknowledged to POLITICO that Robinson would be “the frontrunner” in the race. But he argued that Robinson’s list of controversies could cost Republicans not just the governor’s mansion but other elections in the state as well.

Robinson won’t “just cost you a gubernatorial seat. That impacts the presidential race, and it impacts races across the state up and down the ballot,” Walker said.

But Robinson is still popular with the Republican base. Activists and powerful state Republicans have already started to line up behind him. Sen. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), who defeated Walker in a Senate primary last year, has already backed Robinson. State Treasurer Dale Folwell is also in the race.

North Carolina has faced a major flashpoint over abortion in recent days. The Republican-led legislature overrode a veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper earlier this week to ban the procedure in the state after the first trimester.

Robinson takes a hard stance against abortion, saying in a radio interview earlier this year that “if I had all the power right now, let’s say I was the governor and had a willing legislature, we could pass a bill saying you can’t have an abortion in North Carolina for any reason.”

Walker, too, stressed that he is “100 percent pro-life” in an interview last month but that he believed there needed to be focus on providing “the resources needed to not just before the baby's born, but also after the baby's born” and not just on the procedure.

Walker opted to not run for reelection to his House seat in 2020 after his Republican-leaning district was obliterated in a redistricting process in 2019, making it significantly more Democratic-leaning. But he has flirted with a statewide run before. He considered running against incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in 2020, and he finished in a distant third in last year’s Senate primary for an open seat.

The gubernatorial race in North Carolina will likely be the biggest statewide chief executive contest next year, with Cooper, the Democratic governor, term-limited. Most Democrats in the state have thrown their support behind Attorney General Josh Stein to succeed Cooper.

Democrats have dominated the governorship and remain competitive in other statewide offices in recent decades, but the state has been somewhat of a white whale for Democrats on the federal level. They last won the state's presidential electoral votes when then-candidate Barack Obama won a squeaker in the presidential race and Democrat Kay Hagan beat incumbent Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole. But since then, no Democrat has won a statewide federal race in North Carolina.

Democrats have already shown early signs they will target the state on the presidential level. A recent television ad campaign from the Democratic National Committee and President Joe Biden’s campaign bought airtime in the state, and a recent memo from Biden’s campaign manager that was obtained by POLITICO Playbook said Biden’s team wanted to “expand the map even further in states like North Carolina.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated Mark Robinson’s occupation before serving in elected office.