JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The head of the Republican Party of Duval County said Wednesday it’s a matter of “days if not hours” before we’ll know if Jacksonville will be the substitute host for some or all of the August convention where Donald Trump will accept his party’s nomination for a second term.
National Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said reports of a final decision were 'definitely premature," but she made clear that Jacksonville is the favorite now that Charlotte, North Carolina, the official host of this summer’s Republican National Convention, has balked on promising Trump a full-blown convention free from social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic.
"There’s a couple more things we need to do before we can announce that, but Jacksonville is absolutely in the front-running position,'' McDaneil said in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
Trump has made clear he no longer intends to hold the convention's marquee event -- his acceptance speech -- in Charlotte. But much of the party's more mundane business, including discussions over the platform, are still expected to be held in Charlotte because of contractual obligations.
“We are going to keep our convention of, the business of the convention in Charlotte. That is for sure. It’s going to be smaller and scaled-down. And then we are looking for a different city for a celebration,” McDaniel explained.
But several Republicans familiar with the negotiations stressed that no final decision had yet been made about where the convention will be move
“Several cities are still being considered,” said Emma Vaughn, a Florida-based spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. She said that convention officials were touring Phoenix; Savannah, Georgia; Dallas; and Jacksonville this week and "have been in conversations with several other potential locations.''
"While no final decision has been made by the RNC we understand Jacksonville is a front runner,'' the chairperson of the Republican Party of Florida, Joe Gruters, said in a tweet. "This certainly has been generating a lot of attention and excitement. We continue to believe that Florida would be the best place for the Convention.''
Jacksonville GOP Chairman Dean Black was every optimistic the convention with thousands of delegates, media and support staff might come here.
“We are ecstatic the Republican National Committee sees what we do in Jacksonville," Black said. "While we understand the final decision on a convention location has not yet been made, we are excited for the possibility of hosting our great President and Republican leaders. Reaching this stage of the process would not have been possible without the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, Mayor Curry, Sheriff Williams, and many others. Jacksonville holds the privilege of being the largest Republican-controlled city. We hope to show the rest of the country the benefits of Republican governance.”
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that three Republican officials confirmed that Republicans have tentatively settled on Jacksonville as the new destination for the GOP’s premier festivities.
Greater Jacksonville has a population of about 1.5 million. Mayor Len Curry is a former chairperson of the state Republican Party, and the area is the home base of GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a key Trump ally. Florida’s prize of 29 electoral votes is considered crucial to Trump’s bid for a second term, which could factor into the party’s calculations.
The Party’s party could generate at least $100 million in revenues for the host city, perhaps more.
Reports said RNC aides are scrambling to determine whether Jacksonville has enough hotel rooms to accommodate the event, which typically kicks off the final stretch of the presidential campaign. It would take significant work to make the convention happen. Estimates show the event could draw 50,000 visitors with a potential $100 million economic impact.
The RNC said it expects about 20,000 people for the convention, and the head of Visit Jacksonville believes the city could handle the crowds.
According to our count, Duval County has 18,000 hotel rooms. Of the eight hotels downtown and on the Southbank, there are more than 2,300 rooms.
There are currently no reservations available at the Omni and Hyatt Regency in downtown Jacksonville during the week of the RNC in August.
Georgia and Florida’s governors have been courting GOP and White House officials since it became clear that North Carolina and the party were not seeing eye to eye on the convention and coronavirus precautions in the city of Charlotte.
Curry said previously the recent success of the UFC event at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena shows the city can have a large event and keep people safe from the novel coronavirus.
More than 5,000 people have signed a petition to keep the RNC out of Jacksonville. Some residents are concerned not only by the thousands of delegates and other people covering the convention but the possibility of protesters from all over America descending on the city.
Black said that shouldn’t be a concern, saying that Jacksonville will tolerate protests but won’t tolerate lawlessness.
“We’re going to show them how this is done, and if they want good governance, too, all they have to do is vote Republican," he said.