Tea party’s victory over Berger Jr. sets up interesting 6th District contest

July 17, 2014 

Wow. There was a disbelieving sigh in some Republican corners in North Carolina with the news that Phil Berger Jr., chief prosecutor in Rockingham County and son of the powerful state Senate president pro tem, Sen. Phil Berger of Eden, had lost a Republican primary runoff for Congress.

It was not supposed to happen. Berger Jr. not only raised more money than Baptist preacher Mark Walker, he also had the backing of Republican powers-that-be and, thanks to his father, name recognition in the 6th District. The district runs along the North Carolina-Virginia border from Mount Airy to near Henderson and includes parts of Greensboro and pieces of Orange and Durham counties.

Few candidates could claim more conservative credentials.

In addition, he had the backing of retiring Rep. Howard Coble, who for 30 years has been a wildly popular congressman famed for good constituent services and for bucking the GOP establishment from time to time.

But it appears Berger the Younger got whipped by a familiar foe, Republicans backed by anti-government, anti-everything tea partyers. Although there are some signs – with mainstream Republicans hoping there will be more – that the tea party’s influence may be fading, this race proves that may be wishful thinking from the GOP for now.

Walker is a minister who said some downright bizarre things during the campaign as reported by the Greensboro News & Record. He criticized Berger for being cited for an ethics violation by the U.S. Supreme Court. It turned out the ruling was in another case from 1935, before Berger was born. Walker also referred to a federal background check for gun ownership as an e-Verify system, which happens to be all about immigration rules.

Naturally, Democratic nominee Laura Fjeld, a former legal counsel for the UNC system, is already using the upset to encourage Republicans to vote for her. It’s unlikely they will be persuaded. The district has been strongly Republican for years, and Coble had very little Democratic opposition in some elections. He had bipartisan support even though he was certainly a conservative.

So now the tea party view, which mainstream Republicans in Congress once used to their advantage, has a pretty good chance of gaining yet another ally in the United States Congress. It will be interesting to see which direction the voters of North Carolina’s 6th District choose.

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