Rep. Mark Walker is running for Senate in North Carolina in 2022, he told POLITICO in an interview Tuesday, becoming the first Republican to officially launch a campaign in what's likely to be one of the most contested Senate races next cycle.
Walker, a conservative three-term congressman and pastor, did not run for reelection this year, but has consistently floated a run for the Senate after briefly considering a primary challenge to GOP Sen. Thom Tillis last year. In a video announcement Tuesday, Walker pitched himself as a conservative, highlighting endorsements from a firefighter, farmer, fellow pastor and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, among others.
"We have an established record of being both a conservative and a bridge builder," Walker said in the interview. "I think that's something that's easy to be able to identify with the work that we've done, both for our people who believe in the ideology of limited government, but never getting past the place that we forgot about all of the communities that I represent."
North Carolina is likely to be a top target for Democrats in 2022 as both parties jockey to replace Sen. Richard Burr, who is not running for a fourth term. Democrats will either be seeking to defend a 50-50 Senate majority, or to capture the chamber from Republicans, depending on the outcome of the two Senate runoffs in Georgia in January. Tillis narrowly defeated Democrat Cal Cunningham last month in what became the most expensive Senate race of all time, with nearly $300 million spent in total.
Walker is one of several Republicans eyeing the seat in what could become a crowded primary. Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law and a North Carolina native, is considering a run, and there are a handful of other potential candidates in the GOP primary, including former Gov. Pat McCrory.
In an interview with Fox News Channel last month, Lara Trump said North Carolina was "near and dear" to her and it would be "an honor" to run for Senate, but did not announce her intentions.
Walker said her considerations did not alter his plans or his timeline for the announcement. He acknowledged a likely crowded GOP primary, but said his record in the House would give him an edge.
"We have been planning this for a few weeks before we heard anything about the consideration of someone moving back to North Carolina to run," Walker said. "I have nothing but good things to say about the entire family, but this doesn't deter us one way or the other."
Walker also said he had exchanged text messages with Tillis, who he briefly considered challenging last year. He said at the time he was concerned about Republicans ability to hold the seat.
"If you ever watched a presidential debate in a primary and then how everybody becomes best friends afterwards, that's the way the political arena goes," Walker said. "None of this was personal as far as considerations of the past. We just wanted to make sure that that seat did not fall into the hands of Chuck Schumer."