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(WGHP) — Mark Walker believes relationships will propel him to the US Senate. And they’re not relationships he’s building now that he’s running for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr, it’s the relationships he says he’s built over his six years as a member of Congress — and not always with the people many expect from a self-described “very conservative Republican.”

“I think we build a very strong contrast as someone who, in Washington, DC, has stood up for our conservative values but also someone who has taken this message to places and communities where Republicans aren’t normally welcome to go,” said Walker, about his work building relationships with African-American communities, in particular.

He says it began as he observed the work his father did as a prison chaplain.

“I watched that and realized that if you look at people with an understanding that we are created in the image of God, I think what happens is the political biases can come down,” Walker said. “I’m not saying we won’t have our disagreements and I’m not saying that I don’t stand up and fight against things that are hurting communities, yet at the same time, I want to make sure that people see my heart before they see my politics.”

Walker says that’s why, among the work he’s most proud of, is relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, helping not just with funding but with internships and other opportunities.

He says whoever is the next senator from North Carolina, they will have to deal with the one issue it seems unites Republicans and Democrats in the Senate: the rising threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

“The last two years I served as the ranking member on intelligence and counterterrorism for the Homeland Security. The military buildup in the South China Sea while, at the same time, us continuing to mortgage our future with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is a big problem for me,” he said.

Walker holds some very traditional, conservative positions.

“I’m a big believer in life at all stages. I don’t run from that, not ashamed of it,” he says. But he insists there is more. “Sometimes, people want to pigeon hole us as just a social conservative but our work in the business community has mattered from the mountains to the coast.”

See more from Mark Walker in this profile.