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Rep. Mark Walker won’t challenge him, but Sen. Thom Tillis still faces a primary

Walker may be eyeing open North Carolina Senate seat in 2022

North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker is passing on a Republican primary challenge to Sen. Thom Tillis this cycle. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker will not be launching a primary bid against Sen. Thom Tillis, one of the most vulnerable Republicans facing re-election next year.

“After prayerful reflection and consideration, I am confident that my continued service in the House will best help our efforts to reclaim the majority from Nancy Pelosi and advance our shared conservative goals,” Walker said in a statement to Politico, which first reported the news. 

The Club for Growth had tried to recruit him into the race with a poll last month, and Walker had sought support from the White House. But GOP Senate leaders were worried about a divisive primary threatening a key state for Republicans up and down the ticket in 2020.

The club’s poll showed that the three-term congressman wasn’t as well-known among GOP primary voters as Tillis, but that those who did know him had a favorable opinion of him (19 percent). The club argued that Tillis’ 30 percent unfavorable rating would be “terrible in a primary.” Tillis led Walker 40 percent to 17 percent in a hypothetical matchup among four GOP candidates.

Walker is thought to be interested in running in 2022 for the other Senate seat, which will be open with Republican incumbent Richard M. Burr not running for re-election. 

Retired businessman Garland Tucker III, who entered the Senate race last month, received 11 percent in the Club for Growth poll, which surveyed 502 North Carolina GOP primary voters from May 19-21. Both Tucker and Tillis have attacked each other for not being sufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump.

Tucker is expected to be able to pour his own resources into the race, and without Walker to split the anti-Tillis vote, he may have more success consolidating support. Tillis raised nearly $1.2 million during the first three months of the year and ended March with $2.9 million in the bank. 

Tillis has voted with his party 96 percent of the time he’s been in the Senate, according to CQ’s Vote Watch. He’s supported Trump 99 percent of the time  — the average Senate Republican did so 97 percent of the time. His high-profile switch on Trump’s national emergency declaration earlier this spring contributed to speculation that he may be vulnerable to a primary.

Tillis came to the Senate in 2015, after defeating Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by less than 2 points. The former state House speaker won an eight-person primary that year by nearly 20 points. 

Democrats do not yet have a high-profile challenger in the race. Trump carried the state by 4 points in 2016, and it will be a top target for Democrats at the Senate and presidential levels next year. Democrats are also targeting several House races in the state, including a competitive special election later this year, although the congressional map may change ahead of 2020. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Senate race Tilts Republican

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