RALEIGH, N.C. —
North Carolina’s governor said Tuesday that the GOP must prepare for a scaled-back Charlotte convention because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the national Republican chairwoman responding that organizers would begin visiting other potential host cities.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said in a letter to the top convention organizer and the national GOP chairwoman that he’s happy to continue conversations over how to hold the convention safely, and is still awaiting a safety plan requested by North Carolina officials.
“The people of North Carolina do not know what the status of COVID-19 will be in August, so planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity,” Cooper said in the letter.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, one of the recipients of Cooper’s letter, released a statement saying that while the party would like to hold its event in Charlotte, “we have an obligation to our delegates and nominee to begin visiting the multiple cities and states” that have reached out to express interest in hosting. Governors of Tennessee, Florida and Georgia are among the leaders who have said they would be interested in hosting if North Carolina falls through.
Wednesday was the deadline from the GOP for assurances from Cooper. Last week, Trump demanded Cooper that guarantee him a full-scale event and answer him within a week. Otherwise, he has threatened to move the event elsewhere.
North Carolina faces an upward trend in its virus cases, with Mecklenburg County having more cases and deaths than any other county.
During a briefing before Cooper’s letter became public, North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley acknowledged that some changes would likely need to be made for safety but still maintained that Republican leaders want assurances from Cooper that a “full-scale” convention can be held.
“Look, we’re not going to move forward with any activities that do not follow federal, state or local requirements and regulations. So, we need to know what those requirements are going to be,” he said, citing the original Wednesday deadline.
Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College, said that Cooper’s popularity in North Carolina may give him a stronger position than Trump to convince the public that his approach is correct.
But given the impasse and the Wednesday deadline, Bitzer said it’s hard to imagine Cooper and Trump will strike a deal that fully satisfies both sides.
“The deadline is gonna push one side to do one thing, and the other side is just going to say, ‘no’ or ‘we can’t,’” he said.
Holding the convention in Charlotte could help Trump boost enthusiasm among his North Carolina supporters, but he could also frustrate some voters if he pushes too hard during a delicate time for health and public safety, Bitzer said.
Whatley said the convention could generate $200 million for the regional economy and jobs, especially in the hospitality industry and in restaurants and bars.
“This is an economic shot in the arm that we desperately need in North Carolina,” he said.
Two Charlotte restaurant owners said they didn’t expect a huge hit if the RNC moves or is scaled back.
“I feel like it would be a small impact on our business,” Greg Zanitsch, who owns the Fig Tree near the city’s central business district.
When the Democratic national convention was held in Charlotte in 2012, he said an increase in business from visitors was balanced by the fact that his regulars stayed away.
“So, it was pretty much just a normal weekend. We didn’t see a big increase in business because of the convention,” he said.
But Zanitsch did say that he’d been hoping to recoup some pandemic-related losses to an Airbnb lodging rental through RNC visitors.
Patrick Whalen, owner of 5Choice in Charlotte, said he thinks the RNC overall will be good for the city and wants it to come. But, he added: “Whether the RNC was going to be here or not, we would have done fine.”
Whalen, whose restaurant’s windows were smashed during recent protests over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody, said he thinks the RNC could also bring protesters, but that the city is equipped to deal with them.
“I think most of this has been peaceful and productive, frankly. So my guess is that will probably happen again during the RNC, but hopefully with less violence,” he said.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Drew in Durham, North Carolina, and Tom Foreman Jr. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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.”
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