RALEIGH — It's a sign of how much is at stake in next week's runoff election and how narrow the expected margin of success is that a Republican congressional election has devolved into one candidate claiming his Facebook page was hacked to make it look like he was fibbing about his education.
Mark Walker said he's the victim, targeted by unknown hackers trying to make him look bad. His opponent in the 6th Congressional District GOP contest, Phil Berger Jr., said the inaccurate reference on Walker's Facebook page that he attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is an example of Walker lying to voters.
"That's a complete fabrication," said Walker, adding that he never claimed to attend UNC-G. The former Baptist pastor said he was trained in biblical studies from what is now called Piedmont International University in Winston-Salem.
The primary runoff winner faces Democrat Laura Fjeld, a retired University of North Carolina system administrator, for the 6th District seat open after incumbent GOP Rep. Howard Coble's decision to retire after 30 years in office. The district heavily favors Republicans.
More than two months after the May 6 primary election, most voters are unaware that runoffs are being held in 37 counties. None of the 15 races are for statewide offices. The partisan contests mostly involve races for sheriff, coroner and county commissioner between the top two vote-getters in May.
Less than 4 percent of registered voters turned out for the second primary in 2010, which like this year featured congressional elections but no presidential race, the state elections board said.
"We're focused on turning out our voters," said Berger, the Rockingham County district attorney and son of powerful state Senate leader Phil Berger. "If we do what we need to do, things look very promising for us on July 15."
There's another runoff for a congressional election. Josh Brannon and Gardenia Henley of Winston-Salem are running for the Democratic Party nomination in the 5th District in northwest North Carolina. Henley ran for election as her hometown's mayor last year and sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2012. Brannon is a software developer from Watauga County.
The winner faces U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican incumbent.
The most interesting race Tuesday pits Baptist minister Walker — who has lined up local endorsements and small donors — against Berger — who has drawn support from tea party groups, big-money political action committees, current Republicans in the state's congressional delegation, and Coble himself.
"Most people would say that we're 90-95 percent similar on the issues," Walker said. "There may be some small differences. Of course anyone running for Congress has all those Republican talking points memorized. I think that the true difference is approach. To me, good leaders are those who are able to build trust and relationships in their community. That's something I've been able to do here."
Walker said he has sworn off contributions from lobbyists or PACs to that if he gets he won't owe special interests.
"It's part of the corruption that is Washington D.C.," he said. "On this quest, I began to wonder, is it still possible to get one of the people to Congress without being groomed by the political process that feeds the system?"
Berger said he was twice elected district attorney and is a former president of the statewide association for prosecutors.
"Those are positions that require deliberation, thought and the ability to work with a wide variety of people. My opponent does not have that background," Berger said. "I think the chief difference between the two of us is I have a history of making tough decisions for the people of North Carolina."
Berger said as a new member of Congress his top focus would be on constituent services, continuing Coble's example. The promise to learn and pull the levers of government is important to Republicans who often criticize it for inefficiency and seek to scale it back, Berger said.
"As government grows and expands, it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate. Citizens are frustrated that their voices aren't heard by the politicians in Washington, but they're also frustrated that the VA doesn't work for our veterans," Berger said. "The out-of-control bureaucracy just requires an office that will help its constituents."