GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Amid expectations that Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson will use a rally Saturday in Alamance County to announce formally his candidacy for governor, another “Mark” appears poised to enter the race.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, of Greensboro, who has talked about a possible run, told WGHP that “there should be more information next week” about whether he will be the third Republican seeking to succeed outgoing Gov. Roy Cooper in 2024.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Walker answers a question during an hour-long debate moderated by Spectrum News political anchor Tim Boyum at the Spectrum News studio in Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)
Republican Mark Walker answers a question during a U.S. Senate debate last spring. Walker may run for governor in 2024. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)

State Treasurer Dale Folwell, a native of Winston-Salem, announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination about two weeks ago. Several others – including U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis – have been mentioned as possibilities.

Attorney General Josh Stein is the only announced Democrat in the field, and Libertarian candidate Mike Ross is running as well.

Robinson, also a native of Greensboro, was elected in 2020 as the state’s highest-ranking Republican, and he has talked openly about his plans during abortion rallies and in speeches before at NRA conventions and churches. He scheduled a rally for 4 p.m. Saturday at the Ace Speedway in Burlington.

Walker’s long-discussed possible candidacy took more shape on Thursday when a couple of high-ranking national campaign figures who are assisting Walker told FOX8 and The News & Observer that an announcement could come in a couple of weeks.

Tim Murtaugh, whose firm National Public Affairs includes Bill Stepien, former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, told FOX8 that the firm is advising Walker and that he is expected to enter the race for the Republican nomination for governor “in the coming weeks.”

Murtaugh’s firm is “advising Walker,” he wrote in an email to WGHP. He later shared a statement from Walker.

“I am grateful for the many friends, colleagues, and officials from across the state who are encouraging me to run for governor,” Walker said. “I appreciate everyone’s support, and I understand their desire to nominate a Republican who can hold up under the scrutiny a candidate for governor will undergo.

“Kelly [his wife] and I are prayerfully listening and will make an announcement about our plans in the coming weeks.”

Walker represented the 6th Congressional district for three terms before deciding not to run in 2020 in a newly drawn district, and he was one of the 14 people in the GOP field to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Richard Burr last year. Walker finished third behind Rep. Ted Budd of Advance, the candidate Trump endorsed, and former Gov. Pat McCrory. Budd won the Senate seat.

And Trump is in the middle of all of this. First, he surprised many by endorsing Budd, and then he wanted Walker to leave the race and run for the U.S. House, a suggestion Walker ignored. Robinson campaigned for Trump and personifies Trump’s MAGA wing of the GOP.

Because of Robinson

Oddly, both Folwell and Walker would enter the race against Robinson because of Robinson, who has been considered the frontrunner but full of controversy.

A businessman who attended UNC Greensboro, Robinson emerged from obscurity after he addressed the Greensboro City Council in 2018 about gun rights. He has spoken at many national rallies, including CPAC, and is known for being outspoken on people and culture issues.

His rise to fame was assisted by none other than Walker, who helped him find the spotlight on Fox News and other outlets, and the two talked regularly, Walker told WRAL. But that changed when Robinson endorsed Budd in the Senate race.

“Anytime you have somebody who’s promoting you as the best candidate for the U.S. Senate and does a 180-degree [turn], it does impact the relationship,” Walker told WRAL last fall. “I don’t hold grudges. We were talking on a weekly basis. That doesn’t exist anymore.”

Folwell told WFAE-FM (90.7) that Robinson has spent the past two years campaigning while he was doing his job as treasurer, and in interview with The Associated Press, he said Robinson “spent all this time attacking people instead of attacking the important problems that our citizens are facing.”

Folwell told The Assembly that “nobody [had] heard of this guy 1,000 days ago. I’m going to let him be who he’s been over the last 1,000 days, and I’m going to be who I’ve been over the last 25 years as a public servant.”

That might be Walker’s perspective, too. Kyle Van Zandt, who managed Walker’s defeat of Phil Berger Jr. to earn the House seat in 2014, said as much to The Assembly.

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“There’s a lot of doubt that Robinson can deliver a win in the general election,” Van Zandt said. “A lot of people are looking for other viable candidates for this. Walker has a proven track record of standing firm in his principles and not alienating people who may not agree with him.”

What polls have said

Internal Republican polling early this year has suggested Robinson would dominate any challenger, polling 50 percentage points ahead of Walker head-to-head. He’s also 39% ahead of former Gov. Pat McCrory, whose candidacy has not been speculated, and 54% ahead of Folwell.

A poll last fall by left-leaning Carolina Forward showed Robinson as the clear preference (54% of the total) but in a virtual dead heat with Stein overall. Tillis, a former speaker of the state House, followed with 20%, and Folwell received 4%. There were 5% who chose someone else, and 17% were unsure, but Walker wasn’t included.