GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Rep. Mark Walker appears ready to reveal his plans about entering the Republican race for governor of North Carolina.

Walker, who said late last month that he was “prayerfully listening” whether to enter the race, has scheduled an announcement for May 20, his campaign adviser announced Tuesday.

Walker, a resident of Greensboro who served three terms in Congress representing the 6th Congressional District and then unsuccessfully sought the nomination for the U.S. Senate last year, did not establish a time and location for the announcement, but an email from his adviser, Tim Murtaugh, vice president for National Public Affairs, made the intent fairly clear.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker may be nearing a run for North Carolina governor. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

“Congressman Mark Walker will be announcing his plans for the 2024 governor’s race in North Carolina and is looking forward to seeing hundreds of friends and supporters as this important election approaches next year,” Murtaugh said. “He and his wife, Kelly, have heard from pastors, officials, and groups across North Carolina, all encouraging him to run, and have been discussing it and praying about it with their close friends and family.

“Because Democrats will be putting everything they have into the coming race, it’s essential that Republicans nominate a candidate who can withstand the scrutiny of a gubernatorial election. Mark looks forward to sharing his decision with the voters on May 20th.”

Murtaugh, whose firm includes Bill Stepien, former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, had said last month that his firm is “only advising Walker, not running his campaign,” and that Walker has not built a website or started to raise money.

There was some question about whether Walker might reconsider the governor’s race after the NC Supreme Court handed Republicans in the General Assembly a virtually unchecked opportunity to redraw congressional districts for the 2024 race. Those new maps, expected this summer, almost certainly would provide more favorable districts for Republicans. Walker didn’t respond to questions about that possibility.

If Walker does indeed join the field, the GOP race would be among three men with roots in Greensboro. State Treasurer Dale Folwell, a native of Winston-Salem and graduate of UNC-Greensboro, and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a native of Greensboro, already have announced their candidacies.

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

Walker’s long-discussed possible candidacy had taken more shape in the days before the formal announcement by Robinson, the state’s highest-ranking Republican who has been considered the frontrunner for the nomination but who also would be the reason both Folwell and Walker would enter the race.

Running against Robinson

Robinson, who graduated in December from UNC-Greensboro, has a history of controversial comments, just this week drawing attention for remarks he made about five years ago that mocked students at Parkland High School in Florida following the mass murder of their classmates.

He 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 an 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.”

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:

“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.”

Election prospects

Internal Republican polling has suggested Robinson would dominate any challenger, polling 50 percentage points ahead of Walker head-to-head. 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. Folwell received 4%, and Walker was not included.

Walker, a former minister at Lawndale Baptist Church, represented the 6th Congressional district in 2014-2020 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.

Trump was a key in that race, first surprising 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.