Most people who want an audience with The Pope on Easter weekend have to go to Rome. I got mine at the Moore County GOP convention this weekend.
This “pope” was none other than Claude Pope, cousin of THE Art Pope and candidate for NCGOP chairman. Pope had stopped in to schmooze with convention delegates, and — darn his luck — he got cornered by me.
Pope has been campaigning as a self-described outsider for the top job in the state party. But today, in Moore County, Pope told me that the governor himself asked him to run for state party chairman. (I don’t know. The governor seems to be pretty “inside” to me. )
The candidate said the governor and his team are very concerned about having an effective organization in place to communicate — and defend — the administration’s policies. (Isn’t that what the press office is for?)
Pope says he learned a valuable lesson from his Wake County party experience:
“We worked hard and got a solid majority on the school board. With that majority, we were able to get a lot of positive things done. Thanks to some egos, some folks acting like idiots, and unanswered attacks from the Democrats and the media, it was gone in two years. It’s important to win elections. But it’s just as important to hold onto, properly defend, and build on what you’ve achieved.”
Pope says he has had a good working relationship with Tea Party and other grassroots activists since he was Wake County GOP chairman in 2009-2010. He said the Wake party and the grassroots worked very closely on a number of events and issues. Pope is living on Bald Head Island in Brunswick County now, but plans to move back to Raleigh if he is elected state party chairman.
I talked with Pope about accusations of meddling in primaries leveled against the outgoing party administration:
“I’m not interested in any of that. If folks at the local level make a decision on a candidate, and that person is not a criminal or an out-and-out kook, THAT is my candidate and the party and I will fight as hard as we can to help that person to victory lane in the general election.”
I also talked with Pope about the party’s elected officials in Raleigh having to be dragged kicking and screaming by the grassroots to the right position on what should be no-brainers for conservatives — like fighting ObamaCare:
“Leadership should be from the bottom-up. It’s very healthy for local folks to communicate their concerns to state officials. As a small businessman, I am very concerned about the potential effects of ObamaCare. I am watching that 50 employee limit very closely. ”
I asked Pope for his thoughts on Governor McCrory’s proposed budget, which is $400 million higher than last year’s, and whether he thought cutting spending and shrinking government were still important issues for the NCGOP:
“Four hundred million? What is that, in terms of the total picture? Two percent? Governor McCrory produced a very sensible budget. It helps make state government more efficient. It sets aside money into reserves, a rainy day fund.”
Pope faces Mecklenburg County Tea Partier Jack Brosch in the race for state party chairman. Voting will take place at the state convention this summer.