CONVENTION PREVIEW:  N.C. GOP Claude Pope on the convention, chairman race and his legacy

Convention floor

Volunteers work to set up the convention floor. The NC GOP convention runs June 5-7 in Raleigh.

RALEIGH — In an interview Thursday with Jones & Blount, N.C. Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope discussed the convention itself, the 2016 presidential race, North Carolina’s presidential primary, and the party’s performance during his term as chairman. Three quick take-aways?

  1. Pope says a deal has been reached on moving North Carolina’s primary day
  2. He predicts Craig Collins will win the race for party chairman by 10 percentage points
  3. While the success of Thom Tillis and Mark Martin is important, Pope says it is just as important that Republicans are getting “deeper and deeper” into all levels of government in the state

First, the convention itself, which is set to open today, is expected to be the largest ever, with between 1,800-2,000 attendees.

“That’s indicative of the overall strength of the party,” said Pope. “The race for chairman helps with attendance,” he said, but noted that there is “always something on the agenda.”

As for that race to replace him as chairman, Pope has endorsed Craig Collins, the Gastonia attorney who has garnered several high-level endorsements, including U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, Gov. Pat McCrory, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and U.S. Congressman Patrick McHenry.

Hasan Harnett of Charlotte is also vying to replace Pope. Harnett served as the manager of Vince Coakley’s 12th District congressional campaign.

“It comes down to experience,” Pope said. “We have 100 county chairs who need help and guidance, and Craig has that experience.”

Collins has also served the party as a district and precinct chairman, Pope pointed out. But Pope was quick to play nice with the other candidates for chairman, saying he respected each one.

“They’re all good friends, and they all have pros and cons.”

But as noted above, Pope thinks that Collins will win, and even prognosticated the margin.

“It’ll be 55-45,” he estimated.

While he handicapped the race to succeed him, Pope also looked back on his two years as party chair. While agreeing that Thom Tillis’ defeat of incumbent Senator Kay Hagan was a highlight of his tenure, Pope mentions other accomplishments as well.

“Helping Thom Tillis win was most important, as well as Mark Martin [to chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court] and flipping the court of appeals,” Pope said.

But he also brought up two other points of pride. The first was “moving the Republican brand deeper and deeper into local government.”

The second was that the party survived the financial hit of the loss of funding from the 2013 elimination of the tax return checkoff for political parties.

“That amounted to $1 million in a presidential [election] year and $500,000 in non-presidential years,” said Pope, who agreed with the decision to end the checkoff. The decision seems to have harmed the N.C. Democratic Party more than the GOP.

Looking back on his tenure, Pope says he is leaving the Republican Party in fantastic shape. He says he looks forward to spending time on Bald Head Island, running his businesses there and “wearing T-shirts and flip-flops.”