The prognosticators were caught off guard Tuesday night when former Baptist minister Mark Walker clobbered Phil Berger Jr. in winning the Republican nomination in the 6th Congressional District.
Political consultant John Davis called it wrong last week. On Wednesday, he speculated that voter resentment of big outside money was the reason for the upset. Berger raised more money and benefited from traditional political action committees and a super PAC that peppered the campaign with mailers.
Walker certainly tried to make that argument as the campaigns drew to a close, accusing state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger of making money flow into Keep Conservatives United for his son’s benefit, without any evidence that it was true.
Almost all of Walker’s funding came from individual donors. At his victory speech Tuesday night, Walker brought up that point right off the bat.
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“We made a promise 18 months ago that we would run for the Republican primary and we would not take any special interest, any PAC, any lobbyist money, and we haven’t taken a dime,” Walker said.
Walker went on to congratulate Berger – who called for party unity in his concession speech Tuesday night – and said more nice things about him than he ever did during the past several months. The healing power of winning an election.
Walker also told supporters the November general election race against Democratic nominee Laura Fjeld presents voters with a clearer choice.
“I see a very professional, a very classy lady, but just couldn’t be more opposite on how we think this country should be managed,” Walker said.
The Greensboro News & Record’s Allen Johnson wrote an analytical piece – headlined “The son doesn’t rise” – suggesting Berger didn’t connect with voters as well as Walker. Berger, who led a field of nine candidates but fell just short of an outright victory in the May primary, “seemed in a hurry at times to get on with his anointment.”
There’s also the fact that Guilford County, where Walker lives, has a greater share of the district than Rockingham County, where Berger is the district attorney.
Political consultant Gary Pearce, writing in his Talking About Politics blog, noted that the outcome made for some giddy Democrats Wednesday morning: “You can almost feel the ripples of glee running through the Democratic Party, the Republican House leadership and the Governor’s Mansion. How we love to see the mighty fall.”
Fjeld’s campaign is already positioning Walker as an “extremist” who doesn’t reflect mainstream values, and invited Berger supporters to join her.
But what if Walker won because the 6th is simply a really conservative district and he had some credential-affirming endorsements (former U.S. Senate candidates Mark Harris and Heather Grant), or a fondness for outsiders, and it will be an uphill battle for Fjeld to turn the seat that Rep. Howard Coble has held since 1985 (albeit redrawn) from Republican to Democrat?