Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who did not seek reelection in 2020, announced Tuesday that he is running for U.S. Senate in 2022.
The move had been expected after Walker’s Greensboro-area House district was redrawn by state lawmakers into a Democratic-leaning seat in late 2019.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from Winston-Salem, announced he is not running for a fourth term in 2022, creating a rare open seat. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis won a second term in November, defeating Democrat Cal Cunningham.
Walker, 51, released a video announcing his campaign for Senate and has created a website.
“It’s a little uncomfortable to talk about why you’re the best candidate. Nobody in the House can match our record as a conservative warrior, but also somebody who builds bridges,” Walker said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
He said his work with HBCUs, criminal justice reform and the “prison to prosperity” program were examples of reaching communities that other Republicans haven’t, while he’s also pushed for a conservative agenda on taxes and abortion.
Walker, a former Baptist pastor, is the first prominent Republican to formally announce a bid for the seat. The Republican primary in 2022 is March 8 and Election Day is Nov. 8.
“Is it really soon when you’re looking at the most expensive Senate race in US history?” Walker said, citing a potential $300 million price tag on the race. Tillis’ victory against Cunningham was the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history with more than $285 million spent by candidates and outside groups.
Walker said he decided in late summer to run for the Senate.
Who else might run?
He is expected to be joined by several other candidates. Lara Trump, daughter-in-law of President Donald Trump, is considering a bid. Lara Trump grew up in Wilmington and attended N.C. State.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who represented far-western North Carolina in the U.S. House, said he has had discussions with Lara Trump and several sitting House members from North Carolina about the seat. Meadows said he is not running for the Senate in 2022.
“I haven’t thought two seconds about how big or how small of a field it is. We don’t make decisions based on what may or may not be in front of us. We’re not running into this blind, either,” Walker said.
Walker has lined up support from 500 pastors and churches and people in more than 100 cities and locations across the state, he said. Walker’s video features civil rights leader Clarence Henderson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and references endorsements from sheriffs throughout central North Carolina. Walker said he anticipates support from “senators on the national level” soon.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina endorsed Walker on Tuesday afternoon, writing on Twitter that “My good friend, Mark Walker, has our full support!”
Walker said he has not spoken with Tillis about his run, but said Burr was “very aware of our plans.”
In 2019, when he opted not to run for reelection, Walker met with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and then-White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. After the meeting, Walker — who at one time was considering a run against Tillis in 2020 — told McClatchy: “I got a lot of strong support to start moving toward U.S. Senate in 2022.”
Walker said then that Trump backed his bid.
“Am I grateful that the president says, ‘You’re our guy in U.S. Senate 2022?’ Of course, I am,” Walker said at the time.
Walker said Tuesday that “I see no reason why that’s dissipated.”
Walker is finishing his third term in the U.S. House. Walker served as the chairman of the Republican Study Committee earlier in his tenure and was a member of Republican leadership in his final term.
Walker said Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior advisor to the president, encouraged him to run again for his House seat in 2020, but he opted to keep his resources for a Senate bid. Walker has more than $570,000 cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports.
Democrat Kathy Manning won Walker’s seat in the 6th Congressional District in November. She will take office in January.
Democrat Erica Smith, a state senator who lost in the primary to Cunningham in 2020, is running in 2022.
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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at email@example.com.