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Jacksonville Is New Front-Runner to Host GOP Convention, GOP Chair Says

June 11, 2020by Jim Morrill and Tim Funk, The Charlotte Observer (TNS)
The Charlotte Convention Center. Republican National Chair Ronna McDaniel said Wednesday Jacksonville, Fla., is the front-runner for hosting the biggest night of the Republican convention, prompting blowback from some Charlotte leaders. (Harold Stiver/Dreamstime/TNS)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Republican National Chair Ronna McDaniel said Wednesday that Jacksonville, Fla., is the front-runner for hosting the biggest night of the Republican convention, prompting blowback from some Charlotte leaders.

A move to Florida would yank the highest profile part of the four-day convention out of Charlotte. Planning for Charlotte to host the event had been going on for two years before President Donald Trump upended them last week with a tweet.

The president tweeted that Republicans would look for another city that could guarantee a big crowd for his acceptance speech in August. Trump made his decision to move the convention after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he could not guarantee full attendance at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center because of uncertainty over the COVID-19 pandemic.

McDaniel’s comments, to radio host Hugh Hewitt, came after The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that GOP officials had tentatively decided to move the convention from Charlotte to the Florida city.

“These reports are definitely premature,” McDaniel told Hewitt. “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. There’s a couple more things we need to do before we can announce that, but Jacksonville is absolutely in the front-running position,” she said.

The convention is scheduled to start Aug. 24.

The convention’s Charlotte host committee, charged with raising almost $70 million for the event, called the move “a clear violation” of contracts with the city and other local groups.

“We have learned from news reports that the Republican National Committee has moved the convention from Charlotte to Jacksonville,” the committee said in a statement Wednesday. “This decision is in clear violation of the agreements made with the City of Charlotte, the County of Mecklenburg, Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, and the Charlotte Host Committee.

“Unfortunately, this action most directly impacts our hospitality and tourism partners, small businesses, and vendors counting on the economic impact of the promised events.”

And the city of Charlotte said officials have been working “in good faith” with GOP leaders “to complete its contractual obligations under the terms of the two Convention agreements.”

“Considering the media reports of the RNC’s apparent unilateral decision to relocate a substantial portion of the convention to Jacksonville, an immediate discussion with the RNC and our partners regarding contractual obligations and remedies resulting from this apparent decision is required,” the city said in a statement.

City officials, leaders of the Charlotte host committee and party officials have been talking since last week. The city and the party have signed contracts for facilities and other aspects of the convention.

Some business of the convention is still expected to remain in Charlotte, but what that looks like is still being negotiated.

Trump made his expectations clear in a May 29 phone call with Cooper. He alluded to the day five years ago this month when he announced his presidential campaign after riding down a golden escalator in Trump Tower.

“Since the day I came down the escalator, I’ve never had an empty seat and I find the biggest stadiums,” he told Cooper, according to the Washington Post, citing people familiar with the call. “I don’t want to be sitting in a place that’s 50% empty.”

Cooper told Trump that because he couldn’t know the scope of the coronavirus or state restrictions in August, he couldn’t guarantee full attendance at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center. And he wanted people to social distance.

The New York Times reported that a formal relocation announcement could come Thursday.

Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, is a Republican, and the mayor of Jacksonville is a former Florida state GOP chairman.

Unlike most cities that have been mentioned as a follow-up site for the RNC, Jacksonville also has a Republican mayor. Lenny Curry was also formerly chairman of the Florida Republican Party. And in a May 26 tweet, Curry said the city “would be honored to host the Republican National Convention.”

But, there’s also opposition to having Trump deliver his acceptance speech in Jacksonville. More than 6,500 people have signed an online petition to “Keep Republican National Convention Out of Jacksonville,” citing fear of violent protests coming to the city the week of the RNC.

Another prominent figure in Jacksonville, Shad Khan, the owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. But Khan, a Muslim who emigrated from Pakistan in 1967, later publicly opposed Trump’s order banning U.S. visits of Muslims from seven countries.

And when Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who “disrespect the flag,” Khan locked arms in solidarity with players during a September 2017 game and blasted the “divisive and contentious remarks by President Trump.”

Jacksonville is named for Trump’s favorite U.S. president, Andrew Jackson, who was Florida’s first military governor after Spain sold Florida to the United States in the early 19th century.

Like Trump, Jackson was a controversial president known for his outspokenness. After Trump moved into the White House, he placed a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office.

Some N.C. Democrats welcomed the convention’s reported move.

“If the president is genuinely delusional enough to think that demanding a full-scale convention is reasonable, then Jacksonville is more than welcome to host his acceptance speech,” said state Democratic Party spokesman Austin Cook.

“Gov. Cooper has made it clear that no political event is worth risking the public health of the Charlotte community and the lives of more North Carolinians. Evidently President Trump’s calculus is different.”

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Francesca Chambers of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

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©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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