Republican voters in much of central North Carolina will choose between a Baptist minister and a pharmaceuticals sales representative to be their nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives.
The state’s congressional districts were redrawn after a court order earlier this year, so voters who previously were part of other districts will now be in the 6th, which stretches from Sanford to the Virginia border. The district includes most of Guilford County and all of Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Lee, Person, Randolph and Rockingham counties.
The candidates in the June 7 Republican primary are Mark Walker and Chris Hardin. There is no Democratic primary.
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Walker, the incumbent, is finishing his first term in office. He was elected in 2014 after longtime Rep. Howard Coble decided not to seek a 15th term.
Who is Mark Walker?
Walker was a salesman before becoming the music and worship pastor at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro. He has written and directed the church’s Greensboro Christmas Spectacular musical in recent years.
He supports doing away with the Dodd-Frank banking regulations that were added after the financial crisis, wants a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget and has stressed the importance of social issues.
A February story in the conservative magazine National Review described Walker as House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “secret weapon” on conservative reforms to fight poverty, noting Walker’s relative anonymity on Capitol Hill until Ryan asked him to lead a task force on the subject.
Who is Chris Hardin?
Hardin served in the Coast Guard and then worked as a police officer for eight years before getting into the pharmaceutical industry. He’s still a reserve officer with the Graham Police Department but works primarily as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, Validus.
He advocates dismantling the U.S. Department of Education and ramping up deportations of immigrants who live in the country illegally. He said one of the key things that inspired him to run was his desire to significantly pare down the size of the government and the national debt.
“Having two daughters, I just thought it was kind of irresponsible to turn over this kind of debt to my children,” he said. “Running for office, this isn’t something I dreamed about as a younger person. But I think I’ve got the spine to do it.”
More on the issues
Both men oppose the health care law championed by President Barack Obama, support simplifying the U.S. tax code and want to get rid of Common Core education standards. They also both have called for increasing the size of the military, reforming the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and generally reducing government spending.
Both have also tried to tap into the anti-establishment fervor sweeping the modern Republican Party. Hardin’s campaign website refers to “the Washington Cartel and lobbyists,” and Walker’s website says he spent his first term “fighting against Washington’s business as usual.”
Although Walker ran as a Tea Party conservative in 2014, Hardin contends he became too close to the party establishment since taking office.
“There’s a huge difference between candidate Mark Walker and Congressman Mark Walker,” Hardin said.
He cited Walker voting to retain John Boehner as speaker of the House last year, as well as his accepting campaign donations from political action committees associated with the party leadership.
Walker also famously said during his 2014 campaign that he would bomb Mexico to stop illegal immigration; Hardin charged that once he took office, Walker hasn’t taken the same hard line on immigration.
Walker’s staff didn’t make him available for an interview. His chief of staff Scott Lubingill said Walker has kept the campaign promises he made – including to work to repeal Obamacare, fight against abortion and oppose amnesty for immigrants living in the country illegally.
Walker also joined most other Republicans in co-sponsoring a bill to allow some Middle Eastern refugees into the U.S. if they passed thorough background checks.
Hardin said that shows Walker to be out of touch with people in the district who don’t want to accept refugees. But Lubingill defended Walker, noting how even though the bill failed to pass the Senate, Obama had threatened he would veto it if it did pass, since it was so strict.
Hardin trails Walker significantly in fundraising and in spending. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Walker had raised more than $560,000 through the end of March. Hardin had raised about $22,000 in that same period.
As of March 31, Hardin still had $1,900 on hand. Walker had $292,702 on hand.
Hardin said he hopes that the likely low turnout for the primary will give him an advantage. He also said he hopes to benefit from the swell of anti-establishment voters Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has created, even though Trump won’t be on the June ballot.
In November’s general election, whoever wins the June primary will face Pete Glidewell of Elon, who faces no primary opponent. Glidewell is a former chairman of the Alamance County Democratic Party, a Vietnam veteran and co-owner of a consulting business.
In 2014, Walker ran as the anti-establishment candidate against Republican Phil Berger Jr. in the primary, winning in a runoff election and then going on to easily defeat Democratic challenger Laura Fjeld in the general election.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran
Lives in: Greensboro
Education: B.A. in biblical studies from Piedmont Baptist College (now Piedmont International University) in 1999.
Professional experience: Baptist minister; has been a salesman.
Political resume: Incumbent since 2015
Family: Has three children with his wife, Kelly.
Lives in: Browns Summit (Guilford County)
Education: Master’s degree in management and leadership from Liberty University in 2014; B.S. in business administration from Gardner-Webb University in 2003; associate degrees in criminal justice and general education from Rockingham Community College in 2000 and 1997.
Professional experience: Pharmaceutical sales representative; served in the Coast Guard and as a police officer.
Political resume: Has not held elected office.
Family: Has two daughters from a previous marriage.