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Former US Rep. Mark Walker drops North Carolina gubernatorial bid to run for Congress

FILE - U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C. speaks during a hearing, Sept. 18, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Walker announced Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, that he is dropping out of the Republican primary for governor in 2024 and will instead try to take back his Greensboro-area seat in the U.S. House. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Just after the North Carolina General Assembly gave final approval Wednesday to a new congressional map favoring Republicans, a former congressman announced he is dropping out of the Republican primary for governor to try to win back his seat in the U.S. House.

Ex-U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a former Baptist pastor from Greensboro, launched a bid Wednesday to reclaim the district he had represented on Capitol Hill for six years. He held the seat until a previous redistricting cycle opened the door for Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning to take office.

“I didn’t really leave voluntarily,” Walker said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Now that the General Assembly has restored the 6th District to how it’s historically been represented, which is conservative Republican, it felt like this was the right time to reengage with everything going on in the country."

The Republican-led General Assembly approved a plan Wednesday for North Carolina’s 14 U.S. House seats, creating 10 districts that appear to favor Republicans, three that favor Democrats and one that could be considered competitive, according to statewide election data. Each party currently holds seven of the state's congressional seats.

The state Supreme Court flipped from a Democratic to a Republican majority in the 2022 elections, and the panel ruled in April that the state constitution placed no limits on shifting district lines for partisan gain. The ruling gave state lawmakers the freedom to fashion new boundaries that could help the GOP pick up at least three seats in the U.S. House next year.

Walker served three terms in Congress from 2015 to 2021. He ran unsuccessfully in the state’s 2022 U.S. Senate primary. In May, he entered a crowded field for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, joining Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and State Treasurer Dale Folwell.

Walker now plans to challenge Manning, a second-term congresswoman, who said in a statement last week that the newly Republican-leaning 6th Congressional District takes away her constituents' rights to fair representation by lumping together several vastly different counties.

Walker said he no longer saw “a clear path forward” to win the gubernatorial nomination and determined that dropping out would give Republicans a better shot of winning the office, which has been held by Democrats for much of the past three decades.

State Attorney General Josh Stein and former state Supreme Court Associate Justice Mike Morgan are competing for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Republican supermajorities in the General Assembly passed legislation this year limiting the governor's power to appoint people to key boards and commissions, which Walker said was a deterrent to continuing his gubernatorial campaign.

“With the supermajorities in the statehouse, it really put parameters on what a governor can actually lead or execute in that branch of government,” he said. “We just came to the conclusion that if we were going to maximize our service, we felt like this was the best path to move forward.”

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Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.