n the spring of 2010, the conservative political strategist Ed Gillespie flew from Washington, D.C., to Raleigh, North Carolina, to spend a day laying the groundwork for REDMAP, a new project aimed at engineering a Republican takeover of state legislatures.
Gillespie hoped to help his party get control of statehouses where congressional redistricting was pending, thereby leveraging victories in cheap local races into a means of shifting the balance of power in Washington.
It was an ingenious plan, and Gillespie is a skilled tacticianâ€”he once ran the Republican National Committeeâ€”but REDMAP seemed like a long shot in North Carolina. Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 and remained popular.
The Republicans hadnâ€™t controlled both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly for more than a century. (â€śNot since General Sherman,â€ť a state politico joked to me.) That day in Raleigh, though, Gillespie had lunch with an ideal ally: James Arthur (Art) Pope, the chairman and C.E.O. of Variety Wholesalers, a discount-store conglomerate. The Raleigh News and Observer had called Pope, a conservative multimillionaire, the Knight of the Right. The REDMAP project offered Pope a new way to spend his money.