Officials planning the Republican National Convention were left scrambling after President Trump said this week that they’re looking for alternate sites for the massive event amid an escalating spat with North Carolina’s Democratic governor.
The Republican National Committee said Wednesday that the celebration surrounding Mr. Trump’s nomination will be held elsewhere even as the party holds out hope that they can still conduct some convention business in Charlotte in August.
“It would be light speed to put a convention together this quickly in a city. I think it could still be done, but it’s tough,” said Jason Thompson, a Republican National Committee member from Georgia. “I don’t know why any state wouldn’t want to have a convention with all the revenue that comes in.”
The convention was scheduled to take place Aug. 24-27 in Charlotte, but organizers had been in a back-and-forth this past week with Gov. Roy Cooper, who has expressed public safety concerns about holding such a large-scale during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
A major overhaul to such a massive event in less than three months’ time is a herculean undertaking even if the party’s nomination of an incumbent president is ultimately a formality.
The president late Tuesday said they are now being forced to seek another state to play host, saying Mr. Cooper and state officials refused to guarantee the full use of the Spectrum Center.
“Governor Cooper is still in Shelter-In-Place Mode, and not allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
The president has been itching for a return to his large-scale campaign-style rallies that have been put on hold during the pandemic.
Mr. Cooper said the state has been committed to holding a safe convention but that planners never agreed to scale things down to accommodate public safety concerns.
North Carolina is currently in “phase two” of its recovery plan and indoor gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel responded that Mr. Cooper hadn’t given them enough guidance on what a “scaled down” event would look like.
An RNC official said Wednesday that the celebration of Mr. Trump’s nomination will be held in a another city but that some convention business could still be held in Charlotte if Mr. Cooper relaxes the restrictions.
Other possible locations include Nashville, Las Vegas, Orlando or Jacksonville in Florida, and Georgia.
Mr. Thompson floated Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as a possible site, though he said he’s not even sure they would need something that big. The stadium, home to the Atlanta Falcons, has a capacity of more than 70,000.
“Maybe even an outside venue. I mean, considering COVID-19, UV light and everything — might not be the worst thing in the world,” he said. “Heck, there’s probably high school football stadiums that could do it.”
The RNC had said their definition of a “full convention” would entail 19,000 delegates, alternate delegates, staff, volunteers, elected officials, and guests inside the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican, estimated that the convention would bring about $160 million to the state economy at a time when businesses are still struggling to recover from coronavirus-related shutdowns.
“Gov. Cooper has delivered a clear message that North Carolina is not open for business, and the repercussions to jobs and livelihoods will be long-lasting,” Mr. Forest said Wednesday.
Mr. Forest is running for governor against Mr. Cooper in the fall election.
North Carolina is also a key battleground state in the race for the White House, and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is up for reelection in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.
Some Republican governors, including Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, said they would welcome the event to their states.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was more cautious Wednesday, saying the virus is not yet fully tamed.
“I don’t know where we’ll be several months from now, but this would not be something that we think that we would volunteer to do,” Mr. DeWine, a Republican, said on Fox News. “These mass gatherings are just a real problem, particularly those that are inside.”
The White House referred questions about convention planning to the RNC.
Democrats already pushed their convention in Milwaukee from July to August over coronavirus concerns and are crafting contingency plans for parts of it to be held virtually.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said Wednesday that Mr. Trump and Republicans are “abandoning” North Carolina and that they haven’t worked with the state to put together an event with proper health guidelines.
“That is what conventions are about,” he said. “They are not about ego gratification. They are not about you, Mr. President — they are about the people.”