Kirk Kovach: Walker, Tillis battle would be one for ages

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 8, 2019

By Kirk Kovach

On the heels of a court decision last week, North Carolina opened filing for congressional races. The decision ended what had been months of speculation about what districts the state would use for its 13-member congressional delegation.

For the past decade, North Carolina has been mired in litigation over the way the districts are drawn. No matter the party in power, those with the ability to draw maps inevitably lean them toward self-preservation. The previous map, drawn by Republicans, locked in an almost impenetrable majority: 10 Republican districts, three Democratic.

But the court decision last week changed that, approving a new plan which looks likely to yield eight Republicans and five Democrats.

That decision means two Republicans in previously safe seats now occupy districts sure to go for Democrats. Congressmen Mark Walker and George Holding, who announced he wasn’t running
for re-election on Friday, 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 Donald Trump.

Walker has two clear options electorally, but neither is easy.

The first would be to run against another Republican incumbent, Rep. Ted Budd of Davie County, whose new district encompasses much of what was represented by Walker while still including parts of his old district, including Rowan County.

Walker has plenty of money, but a nasty fight with his neighboring congressman would be a lousy enterprise to regain a seat in the House. What’s more, the influential conservative group Club for Growth, which helped elect Budd in his first campaign in 2016, announced it 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 challenge North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis in the primary. That just so happens to be Walker’s other option.

This week, a primary challenger to Thom Tillis left the race. That was Garland Tucker, a self-made millionaire who was seeking the nomination as a conservative ally to Trump. 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 Barack Obama won office, but Tillis isn’t a tea partier. He just plays one on TV.

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 from Rowan County and writes for politicsnc.com.

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