On the heels of a court decision this week, North Carolina opened filing for congressional races. The decision ended what had been months of speculation about what districts North Carolina would use for its thirteen-member congressional delegation.
For the past decade, North Carolina has been mired in litigation over the way our districts are drawn. No matter the party in power, those with the ability to draw maps inevitably lean them towards self-preservation. The most recent map, drawn by Republicans, locked in an almost impenetrable majority: ten Republican districts, three Democratic. But the court decision this week changed that, approving a new plan which looks likely to yield eight Republicans and five Democrats.
That decision means two Republicans in safe seats now occupy districts sure to go for Democrats. Congressmen Mark Walker and George Holding both need to find second acts. The latter will likely leave for the private sector, but Mark Walker is ambitious and highly favored by conservatives and President Trump.
Representative Walker has two clear options electorally, but neither are easy.
The first would be to run against another Republican incumbent, Ted Budd, whose new district encompasses much of what was represented by Walker. Walker has plenty of money, but a nasty fight between his neighboring congressman would be a nasty enterprise to regain a seat in the House. What’s more, the influential conservative group Club for Growth announced they would back Budd against a primary challenge, willing to spend $1 million or more.
But backing Budd isn’t a dig against Walker. The Club for Growth has backed Walker in the past and want him to primary North Carolina Junior Senator Thom Tillis. That just so happens to be Mark Walker’s other option.
This week, an existing primary challenger against Thom Tillis left the race. Garland Tucker, a self-made millionaire who was seeking the nomination as a conservative ally to President Trump. But his bid fell flat, with the president and his allies piling up to support Tillis.
Walker would be a different candidate. Unlike Tucker, he never wavered in his support for candidate and then President Trump. It would be a battle, tooth and nail, with the fiery conservative Walker running against what many consider a flaky incumbent.
Tillis has a chameleon-like quality, seeming to change his political stripes based upon what suits his political goals at the time. That works well enough when you have the money and support to win a Republican primary, but it also makes it difficult when a proper conservative arises to challenge you.
Tea Party conservatives saw a slew of victories in the years after President Obama won office, but a Tea Partier Thom Tillis is not. He just plays one on tv. Mark Walker is the real deal and fits well with the current base of the Republican Party. If he challenges Tillis and gains serious support, the type of Republicans who vote in primaries are more aligned with Walker in style and substance.
It would be a fight for the ages.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.