RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Organizers of the Republican National Convention say they are exploring an option where the official business of the convention will still happen in Charlotte while President Donald Trump gives his acceptance speech elsewhere.
North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley said it’s unclear ultimately under what scenario the convention will take place.
“There’s been a year’s worth of work that’s been done. There’s been many millions of dollars that have already been invested in moving forward, so I’m not sure exactly what this going to look like,” said Whatley in an interview with CBS 17 Wednesday. “It’s appalling, frankly, that we’re not welcoming that type of an event here. And, it’s really, frankly, a gut punch to the small business owners, the hospitality industry, the restaurant industry, and the bars that we’re not going to be able to have this event here.”
On Tuesday night, President Trump tweeted that party officials “are not forced to seek another state” to host the convention after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said the event would have to be scaled back in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From my conversations with the President and with the RNC over the last week, discussions about a scaled-down convention have stopped,” Cooper said at a press conference Tuesday.
RNC organizers told the governor they expected as many as 19,000 people inside the Spectrum Center. They said health screenings would occur and masks would be available to those who request them.
Cooper said in a call with President Trump last week, the president said he wanted the convention to occur with no social distancing or masks.
“I’m concerned about anywhere in our country that you have that many people in one place,” Cooper said.
RNC officials say they’re still considering holding some of the events tied to the convention in Charlotte as they begin the process of looking for other sites.
“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 wrote 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.”
State Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) said he’s trying to draft legislation that would compel the state Department of Health and Human Services to write guidelines for how an event like the convention could operate.
“We’re here to hear individuals’ concerns and issues and work with them to try to make a good outcome,” said Torbett.
RNC organizers are expected to go to Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday. Gov. Bill Lee (R) is urging the GOP to move the event there.
“Nashville is the best city in America to hold a convention, and hosting the Republican National Convention in Nashville would certainly help accelerate the economic recovery for local businesses. We welcome the RNC’s interest and would be happy to host the convention in Tennessee,” said Gillum Ferguson, a spokesman for Gov. Lee, in an email.
Some city leaders in Nashville already have raised concerns about having the event, citing the security needs and protests it could bring.
The governors of Florida and Georgia have both said they’re interested in bringing the convention to their states.
“I think that what we’ve seen from the governors in other states is that they would welcome the opportunity to have a $100 million, $150 million plus event come to their cities,” said Chairman Whatley.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said the president “abandoned” North Carolina and was not taking into account the potential public health impacts of holding a full-scale convention.
“He and his campaign have too ineffective and self-serving to work with North Carolina in a serious and thoughtful way to put on an event that reflects the guidance of health officials,” said Perez. “And, if he can’t get the ego gratification from having a big crowd and having no masks, then he doesn’t want to do it in North Carolina. So, he’ll probably go to Mar-a-Lago.”
Perez said his party is still working with state and local health officials in planning their convention in Milwaukee, which starts Aug. 17. It’s still unclear how much of it will take place virtually and what all of the precautions will be.
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