RALEIGH — Greensboro Baptist minister Mark Walker won a harsh fight for the Republican nomination for an open North Carolina congressional seat on Tuesday.
Walker captured 58 percent of the vote in unofficial returns with 80 percent of the precincts reporting in the primary runoff. Phil Berger Jr., Rockingham County district attorney and son of powerful state Senate leader Phil Berger, had 42 percent in the 6th District race.
Next for Walker is the showdown in the November general election against Democrat Laura Fjeld, a retired University of North Carolina system administrator. They will vie to replace 30-year GOP incumbent U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, who is retiring at age 83.
The race was marked by barbs from both sides.
Berger’s campaign called Walker dishonest, deceptive and a liar after he wrongly accused Berger during a televised debate last Friday of being reprimanded by the state Supreme Court for an ethics violation. The case Walker cited was a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1935 unrelated to Berger. Walker later acknowledged his mistake.
Berger mocked Walker’s explanation that a reference on his Facebook page that he attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro was that someone hacked the online site to add that inaccurate information.
Walker criticized Berger’s ties to established Republican politicians in Washington and Raleigh and called himself the everyman outsider.
Yet, after his win, Walker refused to characterize the race as bitter or acrimonious.
“Only in the last week did we push back on some of the attacks,” Walker said.
He said he would try to convey to voters that he is a candidate for the entire district and not for certain factions.
“We would just like to be that candidate that represents every single man and woman no matter what their party affiliation,” he said.
Neither Berger nor his representative could be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Problems appeared to be few for an election which likely would attract fewer than 4 percent of the state’s registered voters. One precinct in Forsyth County opened 15 minutes late, state elections board spokesman Josh Lawson said. A precinct in the rural Beaufort County community of Pinetown operated on backup power for about an hour after a storm rolled through, county elections director Kellie Hopkins.
Most counties with a partisan contest on Tuesday have just one candidate on the ballot.
In Catawba County, voters selected the Republican who will run for Superior Court clerk, and in Cleveland County, the Democrat for coroner. Candidates for sheriff were chosen in Jackson, Orange and Beaufort counties, while district attorneys were on the ballot in Burke and Wake counties. Other races include for register of deeds in Henderson and county commission in Randolph, Robeson and Union counties.
Beaufort County had second primaries for both the Republican and Democratic candidates running for sheriff, leading to a relatively heavy 16 percent turnout by 4 p.m., Hopkins said.
“You have their family and friends and all that, so that kind of drives turnout when it’s local,” Hopkins said.
Democrat Al Whitney and Republican Ernie Coleman won their respective runoffs in the sheriff’s race.
Democrats in the 5th Congressional District, which runs from the Winston-Salem suburbs to the Tennessee border, chose Josh Brannon, a software developer from Watauga County, over Gardenia Henley, of Winston-Salem, a retired federal employee.
With most precincts reporting, Brannon had 65 percent of the vote, while Henley had 35 percent.
Brannon faces Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx.
Both Walker and Berger called for repeal of the federal health care law and oppose abortion and new gun-control laws. Both support taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools and reduced spending, taxes and regulations.