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In what could be a major step in his quest to secure the GOP nomination in the Sixth Congressional district, Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr. last week received the endorsement of incumbent Rep. Howard Coble.

Mark Walker, who forced a runoff with Berger Jr. by coming in a strong second place in the May 6 primary, countered this week with the endorsement of long-time Guilford County Sheriff B.J. Barnes. Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson also endorsed Walker.

Coble kept his preferences under wraps prior to the May 6 primary, opting instead to appear with several candidates to promote general voter turnout. Berger Jr. took the top stop on election day, but failed to clear the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

Coble made his endorsement known at Berger Jr.’s campaign headquarters on Battleground Avenue in Greensboro.

“It’s clear to me that Phil Berger is the right conservative for the job. He has the experience, knowledge and determination to hit the ground running in Washington,” said Coble, in a release prior to the public endorsement. “He’s a solid, proven conservative with the kind of values and energy we need to keep North Carolina on the right track. I’m pleased and proud to offer my endorsement to Phil Berger.”

Coble’s endorsement provides solid momentum to the well organized and monied Berger Jr. campaign. Coble’s brother and other family members have endorsed Walker, causing confusion among some.

Several of Berger Jr.’s vanquished primary opponents are considering a Walker endorsement, but Coble’s stamp of approval likely carries more weight.

“It’s an enormous honor to receive the endorsement of Congressman Coble,” said Berger. “His legacy of service to this district is outstanding. The state of North Carolina and the Republican party have benefitted greatly from his leadership, honor and integrity. Howard Coble is a true public servant who has dedicated his life to this state and his constituents. I will strive to continue Howard’s legacy of service as we work for a prosperous North Carolina.”

The runoff is set for July 15. Walker released a statement via social media that addressed the Coble endorsement. He said the campaign was made aware of Coble’s preference two weeks ago but felt he “might refrain from being a factor in the race.”

Beyond that, Walker alluded to some opposition research Berger Jr.’s campaign is conducting.

“There is no doubt that we are in the crosshairs of a very powerful, well-funded and influential political machine,” Walker said. “Over the last few weeks, the opposition has been pressuring many elected officials and other Washington representatives for endorsements. Private investigators continue to call people and places we’ve served in looking through every aspect of our lives.”

Walker said that he remains committed to a different style of politics, one beyond the traditional Republican method of shredding your opponent with smear tactics.

“Though it has been tempting at times, we have maintained our goal of running a clean campaign that would make North Carolinians proud.”

Walker held his own press conference on Tuesday where Barnes and Johnson made their endorsement official.

“The local sheriffs are the true servants of the people as they live and work among us each and every day, “ Walker said. “These men are not Washington politicians. To have the endorsements of BJ Barnes and Terry Johnson means a great deal to me and to this election. I believe it sends a clear and strong message to the people of North Carolina’s 6th district.”

Barnes, who has been Guilford County’s sheriff for 13 years, criticized the negative tone some adopted during the first primary and lauded Walker for staying focused on his own message.

“My decision is based on a simple test,” Barnes said. “I require my candidate or elected official to be honest, have integrity and a caring attitude about the citizens they want to represent. Of the two people in this run-off, this wasn’t a hard decision. I feel Mark Walker best meets those criteria.” !