McCrory and Walker weigh in on Trump's influence at Budd-free US Senate debate

Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker participated in the fourth U.S. Senate primary debate. Rep. Ted. Budd did not attend.

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North Carolina U.S. Senate GOP Candidates
Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Two of North Carolina’s top Republicans running for U.S. Senate outlined their views on immigration, climate change and former President Donald Trump’s role in GOP politics during an hour-long debate on Tuesday.
Former Gov. Pat McCrory and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker are looking to fill the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. Absent from the fourth debate was U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, the GOP frontrunner in the race, who has also skipped three prior debates.

Here are four takeaways from the Nexstar Media Group debate:

1. Trump’s staying power. McCrory and Walker declined to commit to supporting former President Donald Trump if he were to seek the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination.

“Right now, I would have a bias toward former or current governors from Florida or New Jersey or South Carolina,” McCrory said. “I’m a former governor and I have a bias in that area.”

McCrory has the support of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is a potential presidential candidate.

Walker said he’d support whoever emerged as the party’s 2024 nominee but also expressed interest in another potential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

McCrory unsuccessfully sought a position in the Trump administration shortly after his 2016 gubernatorial defeat. Walker during the debate alluded to a private meeting he had with the former president in which he says Trump vowed to support him for whichever future elected office he decided to pursue.

But in June 2021, Trump offered offered an abrupt endorsement of Budd, whose poll numbers have risen in recent months as more voters become aware of Trump’s backing.
U.S. Rep. Ted Budd has a 10-point lead over former Gov. Pat McCrory in a WRAL News poll of Republican primary voters ahead of the May 17 election. But many voters are still undecided.
Trump has since double down on his support for Budd and has put his reputation on the line in other key races.
An outside group in Washington, D.C., Club for Growth Action, has helped to get out that message through the $14 million it has pledged to spend bolstering Budd’s primary bid.
2. Walker, McCrory discuss their immigration plans. McCrory and Walker outlined their views on migrants entering the United States and whether Ukrainian refugees should be given priority amid Russia’s invasion.

Walker said he opposed sweeping federal legislation at this time.

“We can’t negotiate any type of legislation until the border is secure,” Walker said.

He and McCrory agreed people coming from war-torn countries should be given entry sooner than others in accordance with existing U.S. law. Asked if people who arrived to the United States illegally as children should be given a pathway to citizenship, Walker signaled his opposition.

“I will continue to fight for those who come here legally,” Walker said. “I will not put people who came here illegally in front of the line of those who tried to obey the law.”

McCrory said the federal government should prioritize wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border and enforce existing laws.

“You first have to strictly enforce the law before you determine what do we do with the millions of people that have come across the border,” McCrory said.

3. How to deal with climate change. One subject that has received minimal discussion on the campaign trail was brought up during Tuesday night’s debate: Addressing a worsening environment through renewable energy resources.

“I have no problem with science when it comes to studying how we can make things,” Walker said, adding that he supports electric vehicles and coal.

But he said he worries of increased government regulations that could hurt jobs. “I don’t have a problem with the all-of-the-above strategy. I just would never do so when it impacts the jobs across the country.”

McCrory, who spent nearly three decades rising up the ranks of the Due Energy utility company, said he cares deeply about energy independence and opposes phasing out natural gas. He said he would also want more research conducted about alternative energy sources.

“How are you going to dispose in the long-term with all the solar panels, which, by the way, I don’t want all the solar panels to take our farmland in North Carolina,” McCrory said. “How are we going to feed the world if all the farmland’s going to be taken by solar panels? We have some major environmental issues that we could be creating by trying to help the environment.”

4. Budd gets an indirect spot on the debate stage. McCrory and Walker expressed frustration with a surprise video that appeared during the debate in which the moderators aired a response from Budd to an interview question he was asked about reigning in medical costs.

The move to give Budd a platform during the debate particularly infuriated McCrory, who has routinely criticized the congressman’s refusal to show up to any of the four debates he’s been invited to attend.

“If Ted Budd had enough time to do that interview, why in the hell didn’t he have enough time to come to this debate and three other debates?” McCrory asked. “It’s an insult to the people of North Carolina. It’s an insult to all of us, including 11 other people who are running for the U.S. Senate. To even show him is an insult because who cares what he has to say if he doesn’t say it in front of other people.”

Army combat veteran Marjorie K. Eastman was not invited to the debate.

Walker also chimed in, saying, “I am surprised that he gets a chance to weigh in on some of the questions there.”

Jonathan Felts, Budd’s top adviser, said the congressman on Tuesday met with voters in person in Caswell, Mecklenburg, Vance and Warren counties in lieu of the debate. The campaign reported earlier in the day that Budd had 19 counties left to visit to conclude his tour before the May 17 primary of all of North Carolina’s 100 counties.