RALEIGH, N.C. – The Republican National Committee unveiled plans on Wednesday to proceed with certain convention activities in Charlotte, even though President Donald Trump will deliver his nomination acceptance speech somewhere else.
The move comes in response to growing concerns from Gov. Roy Cooper, D-N.C., that the full capacity convention Trump had requested is “very unlikely” to happen in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cooper wants the GOP to continue discussing a scaled-back convention, while Republicans are seeking assurances that more than 10 people will be allowed in a room.
Cooper's present executive order limits indoor gatherings to 10 people, and the governor believes “it’s not time yet to enter into phase 3" of reopening the state.
“Due to the directive from the governor that our convention cannot go on as planned as required by our rules, the celebration of the president’s acceptance of the Republican nomination will be held in another city," the RNC said in a statement. "Should the governor allow more than 10 people in a room, we still hope to conduct the official business of the convention in Charlotte.”
Dory MacMillan, a spokeswoman for Cooper, said in a statement that the governor "has been clear that the convention could be held with more than 10 people but that plans need to be in place for a scaled down convention with safety precautions. The state has asked for a plan from the RNC but instead has received a public demand for a guarantee of a full indoor convention without social distancing or protective measures.”
The RNC and city of Charlotte signed a contract that went into effect in July 2018. Both sides are working to make sure the other holds up their end of the bargain.
City Attorney Patrick Baker met privately with city council members Wednesday afternoon. In a subsequent news conference, he told reporters he would be in touch with the RNC and key convention leaders on Thursday to discuss Republicans' intentions on how to move forward.
“Absent a breach of the contract by one of the parties, the expectation is that the parties will perform as scheduled under the contract," Baker said. "We would expect that since we haven’t breached the contract, and I’m not aware that any of the other parties have, that the RNC would fulfill their obligations under the contract.”
In April, the City Council voted to accept a $50 million federal grant for convention security. Baker said the city has spent $14 million thus far prepping for the convention but expects Charlotte to get reimbursed through the grant.
Republican governors in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee have called on Trump to move the convention to their states, and the RNC is scheduled to visit Nashville on Thursday.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday night that he “would have showcased beautiful North Carolina to the World, and brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, and jobs, for the State," but that Cooper's refusal to guarantee crowds above 10 “forced” him to seek a different state to deliver his speech.
Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, is one of the most populous and liberal parts of the state. While North Carolina is a critical swing state in the presidential election and Trump could have generated lots of enthusiasm among his loyal base of supporters, there is little precedent for a convention site boosting a candidate's performance.
Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College, noted former President Barack Obama held his 2012 convention in Charlotte but lost the state to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012.
“Conventions don’t really have as great of an impact as people think. The Democrats had a convention in Charlotte and the state went for Romney by two points in 2012.”
Local businesses, especially those in the struggling hospitality industry, stood to benefit from a boom in economic activity. But many are unfazed by Trump's decision to speak elsewhere.
Aaron Seelbinder, who owns and manages rental properties in several states, said he spent $30,000 of his own money on upgrades to a house he hoped to rent for about $3,000 a night during the weeks surrounding the Republican National Convention. Yet the house remains unoccupied for the week of the convention.
But Seelbinder, a North Carolina resident and unaffiliated voter, said he wouldn’t be sad to see the convention go elsewhere because Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the pandemic and recent protests against police brutality frustrates him.
“I put in a considerable amount of money,” Seelbinder said. “I’ll probably lose a lot of money if RNC goes, but I’m not willing to fight to make them stay.”
Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.”