GREENSBORO, N.C. (WTVD) -- As a pastor first, Mark Walker is a man of faith and conviction.
"I don't run one way or the other because of the odds or what's on paper," Walker told ABC11. "I do something because it's in my heart."
That sentiment, thus, is what keeps the former Congressman in the race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, despite his trailing in the polls behind former Gov. Pat McCrory and Congressman Ted Budd.
"My goal is to make sure we uphold this conservative banner but do it in a way that integrity is in check and where it reaches out to people of all backgrounds and walks of life," Walker said in an exclusive interview at his campaign headquarters in Greensboro. "We have a strong record to run on."
Indeed, Walker has a history of being a successful underdog after winning the nomination to run for the U.S. House in 2014 against the more heavily favored (and funded) Phil Berger Jr. After winning the primary, Walker went on to win the general election and serve in Congress for three terms. He even rose through the ranks of caucus leadership when he was elected Vice-Chair of the Republican Conference.
WATCH | Mark Walker's full interview with ABC11
"What it says is this: We're strong conservatives and we'll go to fight a battle where we need to, but we're also talking about taking our message of hope, opportunity, conservatism, individualism, into places and communities that maybe haven't heard it in the past," Walker explained. "In fact out of 1,000 elected Republicans in North Carolina, I'm the only one to speak or give a commencement address at one of our state's HBCU's, and I'm the only Republican in all of Congress to win the United Negro College President's Award. We're very proud of that."
Walker did not run for re-election in 2020 after court-ordered redistricting changed the makeup of Walker's congressional district. According to Walker, the new district would've pitted him against his colleague--and now rival--Rep. Ted Budd.
"I said, 'Ted, with Richard Burr retiring, districts have changed. I'll step away from Congress, and you stay in Congress, and I would love to have your support running for U.S. Senate," Walker recalled.
Budd went on to be re-elected to Congress and has, of course, entered the race for U.S. Senate. Budd has also earned the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.
"You want to know about contrast? Mr. Budd has a DC Super PAC that has spent over $5 million already in this U.S. Senate race," Walker said, referring to the group Club for Growth. "I don't have a single special interest or DC Super PAC spending a single dollar on this campaign."
According to Walker, Club for Growth played a key role in facilitating a meeting between himself and President Trump at the former president's Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, a meeting also attended by hardline conservative North Carolina congressman Madison Cawthorn.
During the meeting, Walker said Trump offered his endorsement to run for the U.S. House in exchange for leaving the Senate race to help Rep. Budd.
"I'm always grateful if someone wants to look at our body of work and say we want you back in the U.S. House," Walker explained. "I don't look at it as pressure. Are they wanting to encourage me to look at a U.S. House seat? Yes. But I don't feel pressure."
Indeed, Walker does share many priorities and principles with Budd and McCrory, including support for President Trump's policies related to trade, taxes and immigration. They also share a resounding opposition to President Biden's agenda.
"I'm not going to run up the national debt or add to yearly deficit just because it looks good on paper," Walker said in response to questions about expanded child tax credits, family leave, and funding for early childhood education. "If you want me to come to the table, and I will and have been, to talk child tax credits, early education and those benefits, I also want to know the adults or dependents are also bettering themselves, so one day they can give back to the community."
On immigration, Walker said his experience on congressional committees--as well as his work as a pastor--gives him an edge versus his rivals.
"The reason I think it's important to have a conservative perspective, and ability to articulate these positions, the basis of this is the concern I have for the U.S. border. I'm all about compassion. As you know, being a former pastor and working and providing aid where we can, we've got to make sure we lock that border down."
As for the impact of Trump's endorsement, Walker expressed some regret at the rhetoric from the former President -- and some North Carolina Republicans -- about whether the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" or "rigged," claims that have overwhelmingly been discredited and debunked by courts and even GOP-led commissions in several states.
"You can get out there, increase your social media following, say the most outlandish things. But in six years I held my staff accountable and I would ask this question: This week, did we make an argument or did we make a difference? Anybody in the political arena can make an argument. It's what makes the viewer feel good. It's what sells on your cable media. But show me the member of Congress, male or female, that's out there making a difference. A lot of times America doesn't know their names."
For Mark Walker, it might be an uphill battle against name recognition and fundraising before voters do know his name, but nothing will get in the way of his faith in the future, or his ability to lead.
"In the U.S. House, you have coalitions or caucuses that prop you up. In the Senate, you better have an individual understanding and ability to lead. That's what separates me."