ATLANTA, Ga. – Even after Georgia postponed its presidential primaries because of the threat of coronavirus, at least a few of the state’s Republicans will get together Saturday in each of more than 100 county conventions to elect delegates. They, in turn, will go to congressional district and state conventions that will choose delegates for the Republican National Convention expected to nominate Donald Trump for a second term.
It's not that the state GOP is blind to the threat of infection from coronavirus in public gatherings. Leaders are actually discouraging people from coming, saying they're making up delegate slates ahead of time. They say only a handful of people need to show up in counties across Georgia to officially elect delegates.
“Some of the conventions may take place in parking lots,” state Chairman David Shafer wrote to The Associated Press in a Thursday text message. “These are pro forma meetings conducting the minimally necessary business to preserve our ability to participate in the national convention.”
But because Georgia elects those delegates through conventions, unlike states that choose them on primary election ballots, Shafer said Republican National Committee lawyers have advised the party it can't scrub the county meetings. When asked if the state had sought a reprieve, he wrote “We are following the guidance we were given."
“The RNC has allotted flexibility to state parties given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding coronavirus, but ultimately it is up to each state party to set its own schedule for these particular types of meetings,” said RNC spokesperson Ellie Hockenbury.
Some other states are pushing back party meetings. The Missouri Republican Party has canceled county caucuses. Instead, county Republican committees will meet by phone on April 4 to vote on slates of delegates and alternates to congressional district and state conventions. The Texas GOP said this week it intends to move its state convention from May to July, pending approval by the state party committee
Not everything is going on as planned. Some county parties have been kicked out of their original venues. Cobb County, the suburban Atlanta county which elects more delegates than any other to the state party convention, was going to meet in a church. Now it will meet at the smaller party office.
“The show has to go on,” said Cobb County Republican Chairman Jason Shepherd. “What we've been trying to do is limit attendance as much as possible.”
Shepherd said he's going to email delegate slates in advance for feedback, but said some people who may be unhappy with those selections may show up seeking to change the slates.
“There are people who will say ‘I’m an alternate, but I want to be a delegate,' or ‘I want to challenge delegate so-and-so,’” Shepherd said.
Fears about coronavirus and the COVID-19 respiratory disease that it causes could continue to be an issue for the party on April 18, when it's scheduled to host 14 separate congressional district conventions, as well as May 29 and 30, when the state convention is scheduled for suburban Atlanta.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
A few counties already held their conventions last week T.J. Dearman, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party northeast of Atlanta, said about 10 people came.
“We were telling people they didn’t have to come,” Dearman said,