Mark Walker to stay in North Carolina Senate race

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Former Rep. Mark Walker announced Thursday that he will stay in the North Carolina Senate race, bucking pressure to drop out and run for the House instead.

"The last 45 days have been a whirlwind," Walker said at a campaign event in Greensboro, N.C.. "When we stepped away from Congress, it was in our hearts to run across North Carolina to be able to take what we've been able to do in central North Carolina, and take it across the state for the U.S. Senate."

"What we're basically saying is we're going to stay on that path."

Walker has consistently polled behind Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and former Gov. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) in the GOP Senate primary but insisted he will keep competing.

The move goes against the wishes of former President Trump, who has endorsed Budd and in December offered to endorse Walker if he runs for the House instead. Both Budd and Walker are running as Trump allies and could be taking support out of each other's bases.

Budd has struggled to surpass McCrory in recent surveys despite having the support of Trump and the Club for Growth, whose super PAC has dumped millions of dollars into the race to support him. Pressure built on Walker to drop out amid attempts to help clear the right-wing lane for Budd in his fight against the former governor.

Budd's camp swiped at Walker after the announcement.

"It's a bad sign when a candidate has to re-announce that he's still an actual candidate after he's already spent $2 million and been campaigning for 14 months yet has nothing to show for it," said campaign adviser Jonathan Felts.

The plan Trump proposed would have seen Walker run in the newly created 7th Congressional District in North Carolina, which is broadly similar to the district he held for three terms and largely overlaps with the area Budd currently represents.

Shortly after the meeting at Mar-a-Lago when Trump made his offer, Walker sounded a noncommittal note about a House run.

"This has to be something in my heart, and I don't know that it's there yet," Walker said last month. "I'm willing to consider it."

Trump's intervention in the primary underscores the importance North Carolina's Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R) holds for the GOP.

Keeping the Tarheel State's Senate seat is a lynchpin of Republicans' strategy to win back the Senate this November, though a bloody primary would hinder efforts to do so, particularly given that likely Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley is expected to coast through her primary.