RNC makes move to Florida

Jim Morrill
Tim funk and Kate Murphy The Charlotte Observer (TNS)
The Republican National Convention was to be held at Charlotte's Spectrum Center starting Aug. 24. Now, it's heading to Florida.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Republican National Convention is officially on the move to Jacksonville, Fla., after it will spend just a single day in Charlotte this August, the RNC committee announced Thursday night.

It will host what the Republicans are calling a "celebration" of President Donald Trump's re-nomination.

"Not only does Florida hold a special place in President Trump's heart as his home state, but it is crucial in the path to victory in 2020. We look forward to bringing this great celebration and economic boon to the Sunshine State in just a few short months," RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a news release.

The convention was once expected to span four days in Charlotte - bringing in 50,000 people and pumping more than $150 million into the local economy.

Instead, around 336 delegates will conduct the convention's official business Monday, Aug. 24. Then they'll head to Jacksonville _ and join more than 2,000 other delegates for three days of speeches and celebrations, a top GOP official said Thursday.

Glenn McCall of Rock Hill, a member of the national Republican executive committee, spoke a day after GOP leaders voted to dramatically scale back the convention activities in Charlotte.

"It's going to be exciting," McCall told The Charlotte Observer. "We just hate that Gov. (Roy) Cooper has forced us to do this and not giving us the opportunity to have the full convention in Charlotte. ... But hey, we have to roll with it."

Cooper, a Democrat, told Trump last month that because of continued concerns about the coronavirus, he couldn't guarantee now that delegates and their guests could fill Spectrum Arena in August. That prompted Trump to tweet last week that he would move the convention to another city.

Cooper's office had asked RNC officials for detailed plans on how they would deal with concerns over COVID-19. They say they've yet to receive them. The state is now in the second phase of a gradual reopening.

McCall said the delegates in Charlotte - six from each state and territory - would conduct a meeting of the credentials committee and re-nominate the president and vice president, casting proxy votes for other delegates. They would likely leave that night for Jacksonville.

There, the traditional roll call of states ("The great state of North Carolina ... ") would be held the following day. Speeches by the first lady, vice president and president would also take place there, McCall said.

It's unclear where the Monday events would take place. They could be in the Charlotte Convention Center or even a hotel, McCall said. Last year the Republican National Committee held its annual summer meeting at the Westin Charlotte.

The committee is expected to meet in Charlotte the weekend before the start of the convention.

North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley on Thursday blamed Cooper for the loss of most of the convention, and as much as $200 million to the state's economy. Whatley, a member of the Republican National Committee, said he supported the plan to find another city because they need to move forward with the convention, be able to have a quorum and allow Trump to speak to all the delegates at the convention.

Instead of North Carolina's slate of 71 delegates and 68 alternates in Charlotte, Whatley said, it will be just him and five others.

In a statement Wednesday, Cooper spokeswoman Dory MacMillan said the state "(has) been willing to work together with the RNC on a scaled-down event with health and safety measures, but it wouldn't be responsible to guarantee a full arena as the RNC has demanded. State officials will continue to support health and safety aspects of any activities that do remain in North Carolina."

Ed Driggs, one of two Republicans on the Charlotte City Council, had once hoped for an exciting weeklong convention that would show off his city and his party.

On Thursday, as news dribbled out about just how scaled-backed Charlotte's piece of the convention will be, Driggs said, "I guess I'm disappointed it's so little."

Now that the Republican National Committee has officially voted to move most of the convention out of Charlotte, Driggs said, "the big question is: How do we (the city) deal with the contracts in place? Who is responsible for those? (The parties to the contracts) are still trying to work it out."

The Charlotte host committee, for example, has "an interest in not being saddled with liabilities and expenses," Driggs said.

On Wednesday the committee, charged with raising almost $70 million for the event, said the move to another city violates contracts with the city and other local groups.

"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," the committee said in a statement Wednesday.

Host committee officials could not be reached Thursday.

Republican City Council member Tariq Bokhari likened the city and all the other parties who had been busy planning for the GOP convention here to cooks.

"We have been in the kitchen making this amazing meal for our small businesses and hospitality workers," he said. "And after all that hard work, a person not part of the contract - Roy Cooper - shipped that meal to somebody else."

Before, he said, the city's role was to maximize the positive impact the convention would have on Charlotte's economy. But now, with another city slated to get the big crowds and big spending that comes with such a national convention, the city's role has shifted to "minimizing legal exposure, get out of this and protect our taxpayers."

The federal government gave the city $50 million - essentially a line of credit - to help it get ready for the security needs surrounding a national political convention involving a major presidential candidate, possible protests and thousands of visitors.

"And we proceeded in good faith," Driggs said. "We should be entitled to cover any outlays (with the money)."

Driggs is an alternate delegate to the 2020 Republican National Convention. But he's not sure yet whether he'll end up going to Jacksonville, where the roll call of the states and Trump's acceptance speech will be held.

"I'm keeping an open mind about (whether or not to make the trip)," Driggs said. "I will assess the health situation at the time as it relates to me personally."

Driggs said he'll be interested to see how Jacksonville deals in two months with the issues - such as crowd control, security, safety of the president and delegates _ that Charlotte has been focused on for two years.

Other delegates are also concerned about the virus.

Ada Fisher of Salisbury, a member of the GOP national committee, planned to come to Charlotte but doesn't expect to go elsewhere. At 72, she said she's had diabetes, heart disease and a stroke.

"I'm not going outside the state," she said Thursday. "If they go to Florida, Florida has as much coronavirus as North Carolina does."

Thursday saw the fourth consecutive day of record-breaking hospitalizations in North Carolina for COVID-19.

The convention will be the first since 1860 to be held in two cities. Driggs said even with a small piece of it, Charlotte will get in the history books - "in a peculiar way."