Saturday, December 16, 2023

Insurgency Against Phil Berger Gets a Face


One anticipated Republican primary we won't get to enjoy is the Phil Berger-Sam Page matchup which seemed quite possible at the start of the week. But Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page backed down, notably after a face-to-face with Berger himself on Wednesday. (See Page's tone-deaf remark to a reporter below.) Page instead filed to run for lieutenant governor with approximately 400 other Republicans. But what remains is the mystery about the group of people who were trying to recruit Page. Berger has filed a Board of Elections complaint against them for violating elections law.

Back on December 4th, I posted here about a "secret" poll in Rockingham County that tested the viability of Sheriff Page's taking on Berger in the Republican primary for Senate District 26. The poll was "requested" by a group calling itself the North Carolina Conservative Project, "but secrecy continues to shroud the individuals behind it and the pollster." The poll supposedly had Page 30 points ahead of Berger in a head-to-head matchup (with a whopping 30% "Don't Know"). 

Lucille Sherman reported Thursday:

The North Carolina Conservative Project does not appear to be registered with the North Carolina Secretary of State, where businesses must register; the IRS, where registered tax-exempt entities can be searched by name; or the North Carolina State Board of Elections, where its expenses would be reported, depending on what kind of group it is.

Patrick Sebastian

Then it gets fascinating. Lucille Sherman got Phil Berger Jr., his daddy's Numero Uno on the Supreme Court, to talk on the record, and he outed Patrick Sebastian, who happens to be the nephew of Pat McCrory and who may be fronting for a group of wealthy people. "Sebastian was a consultant for Berger Jr. until Berger Jr. says he fired him last week following revelations that Sebastian was working to recruit someone to run against his father." (Sebastian's impressive resume can be seen here.)

Berger Jr. said in a text, in response to questions from Axios, "In my conversation with Patrick [Sebastian], he confirmed that he was involved in the effort, that he should have told me weeks ago, and that he was working under a confidentiality agreement." 

"He also said there were a number of wealthy [or powerful] people behind the effort."

Sebastian declined to comment on his involvement, and would not say whether he was the pollster, though he's a partner in a polling firm, Opinion Diagnostics.

Why all the secrecy? It's obvious, really. Sherman says. "Berger's adversaries didn't want to unveil themselves unless they knew they could succeed; otherwise they could become enemies of one of the state's most powerful figures." Duh.

Sheriff Page, in bowing out of challenging Berger on Wednesday, managed a sentence construction that unintentionally -- or who knows? intentionally -- skewered Berger. A reporter asked Page after his meeting with Berger if he had made a deal. Page was offended by the question: “Sir, I don’t make deals. I don’t make deals with criminals." Then he quickly added, "And I don’t make deals with anybody else. I listened. I was invited. I came and listened. But at the end of the day, I’m running for what position I have chosen that I feel best suits what I’m trying to do as a sheriff transitioning.”

Sometimes truth is spoken in the most haphazard way.

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