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Mark Walker doesn’t hold back on Mark Robinson as he tries to catch up in race for NC governor

Mark Walker on stage
By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ
/
CC BY-SA 2.0,
Mark Walker, speaking at a previous CPAC conference.

This story first appeared in WFAE reporter Steve Harrison's weekly newsletter. Sign up here to get the news first in your inbox.

Former President Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment was “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”

In this year’s Republican primary for North Carolina governor, Mark Walker is taking a very different path — and it might be the only chance he has to break through against a dominant, controversial opponent.

Walker, a former congressman from the Triad, did not hold back against frontrunner Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson in an interview last week with Inside Politics.

Walker said he doesn’t expect Robinson to participate in any debates before the March primary because his campaign team “won’t put him on the stage and let him trip all over himself.”

He cast Robinson as unprincipled on issues like abortion: “Who knows where he is today? I don’t know if that is a script he is trying to follow.”

He suggested Robinson as governor would be a rubber-stamp for GOP Senate leader Phil Berger: “There is a reason Phil Berger never stood with Pat McCrory. There is a reason he never stood with Dan Forest. Yet he is the first one up the steps with Mark Robinson’s campaign announcement.”

Walker continued: “The question is, why? I think that’s one of the reasons why Robinson hasn’t said anything the last few months about anything Phil Berger is trying to do.”

Is Robinson’s lead too large to overcome?

There are currently five Republicans running — with Robinson, Walker and State Treasurer Dale Folwell being the most prominent. A divided field likely benefits the lieutenant governor.

Though Folwell is also critical of Robinson, his attacks are more lowkey.

Walker appears willing to speak the loudest.

But can he or anyone stop the lieutenant governor?

At the state party convention in Greensboro, former President Donald Trump essentially endorsed Robinson. A Civitas poll from April had the lieutenant governor ahead by more than 30 percentage points.

And Robinson may not give his opponents an opportunity to stand on a stage with him.

“My prediction is he will never take foot on the debate stage,” Walker said. “One, he is not familiar with the policies. Number two, there is so much that he can’t answer for when it comes to his background.”

By "background," he meant personal problems such as unpaid taxes.

Walker said he thinks the field needs to be winnowed by late fall. He said he and Folwell have discussed the possibility of consolidating the field this year, but he declined to discuss details.

Robinson’s campaign declined to comment about Walker’s comments.

The Republican race for the gubernatorial nomination might be defined by Robinson so far, but Walker shared his thoughts on other issues.

Casinos

Walker said he opposes how Berger pushed for casinos to be part of the state budget rather than a standalone bill. And he criticized Robinson for not taking a stand on the proposed gambling expansion. (The final state budget did not include casinos, after an effort to pair casinos and Medicaid expansion failed.)

“I’ve gone after Mr. Berger pretty firmly these last several weeks for not so much the casino, than the casino process,” Walker said. “My issue was with the lack of transparency. They were telling the rural communities we are going to change your entire culture and your way of life, and you are going to like it. I wouldn’t have a problem with a referendum.”

He added: “These folks pleaded with Mark Robinson to meet with him, to do something.”

Abortion

Walker is a former pastor. He said that “any pro-life bill that comes to be, I will be prone to sign it.” He said that could include new restrictions up to six weeks after conception. Republican legislators banned most abortions in North Carolina after 12 weeks this year.

But Walker criticized Robinson and other Republicans for having what he said is a “lack of sensitivity” on the issue. That includes, he said, Robinson’s comments that abortion is “murder.”

Robinson is now downplaying his past comments on abortion.

On Robinson’s electability in a general election

Robinson’s willingness to blast liberals — and the perception that he’ll say pretty much anything, much like Trump — has helped make him wildly popular with GOP voters. But Walker said Robinson has too much baggage, noting controversial comments on the LGBT community and the Holocaust.

“Most of us don’t believe the Civil Rights Act was a communist plot,” he said. “When you are defending Harvey Weinstein. And when you say it’sIlluminati that went after Bill Cosby, I’m thinking, ‘My gosh. This is so far out of reality.’”

Josh Stein

Walker cast Attorney General Josh Stein, one of the two Democrats running for governor, as too liberal for the state.

“I won’t mince words: Josh Stein is not another Roy Cooper. He is from the Gavin Newsom tree,” Walker said, referring to the California governor. “That’s problematic for North Carolina.”

He did not talk about former North Carolina Supreme Court justice Michael Morgan, who recently entered the race on the Democratic side.

On leaving the governor’s race to run for Congress

The General Assembly will soon draw a new congressional map. It’s expected GOP lawmakers will disassemble the Democratic-leaning seat in Greensboro, creating another opportunity for a Republican.

When asked whether he would run for Congress again, he would not rule it out.

“What I feel called to do is serve the people in whatever way possible,” he said.

Walker ran for U.S. Senate last year but lost in the Republican primary.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.