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Trump says GOP is pulling convention from North Carolina

DOUG MILLS/NYT

RALEIGH, N.C. — President Donald Trump announced Tuesday night that he is seeking a new state to host this summer’s Republican National Convention after host North Carolina refused to guarantee the event could be held in Charlotte without restrictions because of ongoing concerns over the coronavirus.

Trump announced the news via tweet, complaining the state’s governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, and other officials “refuse to guarantee that we can have use of the Spectrum Arena” and were not “allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised.”

“Because of @NC_Governor, we are now forced to seek another State to host the 2020 Republican National Convention,” he wrote.

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Several other states have volunteered to host the convention instead.

The announcement came after a Friday call in which Trump had spelled out his requirements for hosting the convention as planned in Charlotte. Trump told Cooper he wanted a traditional convention with a packed arena full of delegates — and with no face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

During the call, when Trump “insisted on a full convention arena with no face coverings and no social distancing the governor expressed concerns and suggested a scaled back event with fewer attendees,” Cooper spokeswoman Sadie Weiner wrote in an email. “They agreed to continue talking about ways to have a safe convention in Charlotte.”

But Cooper made clear to Trump that those conditions would likely be impossible given the status of the epidemic in his state, and formalized that Tuesday in a letter to the Republican National Committee. Cooper wrote to RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel that “planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity.”

The letter came on the eve of a deadline from the GOP for assurances that Cooper would allow a full-scale event in August.

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Later, Cooper told reporters it’s unlikely that virus trends will allow a full-capacity nominating convention for Trump to proceed at Charlotte’s NBA arena.

“We think it is unlikely that we would be to the point at the end of August to be able to have a jam-packed 19,000-person convention in the Spectrum arena,” Cooper said. “So the likelihood of it being in Charlotte depends upon the RNC’s willingness to discuss with us a scaled-down convention, which we would like to do.”

That prompted the RNC to say they would begin visiting potential alternative sites to examine holding the convention in other locations — largely GOP-led states — that were offering to host the quadrennial gathering.

McDaniel, meanwhile, accused Cooper of “dragging his feet” on giving them guidance for proceeding with convention plans. She 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.

Republican governors of Tennessee, Florida and Georgia have said they would be interested in hosting if North Carolina falls through. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said GOP officials are coming to scout Nashville on Thursday, calling the city "the best place in America to have a convention.

Wednesday was the GOP's deadline for assurances from Cooper. Last week, Trump demanded that Cooper guarantee him a full-scale event or he would be forced to move the event elsewhere.

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North Carolina faces an upward trend in its virus cases, reporting about 29,900 cumulative cases and 900 deaths as of Tuesday. Around 700 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized. Mecklenburg County accounted for 4,500 cases — more than double the next-highest county — and nearly 100 deaths.

Earlier in the day, North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley acknowledged some changes would likely be needed, but maintained Republicans want a “full-scale” convention.

“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.

Whatley said the convention could generate $200 million for the regional economy, especially in the hospitality industry and in restaurants and bars.

Still, 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.

Patrick Whalen, owner of 5Choice in Charlotte, said the convention would be good for the city, but he added, “Whether the RNC was going to be here or not, we would have done fine.”

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Whalen, whose restaurant’s windows were smashed during recent protests over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody, said he thought the RNC could also bring protesters, but the city is equipped to deal with them.

“So my guess is that will probably happen again during the RNC, but hopefully with less violence,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tenn.; Jonathan Drew in Durham, North Carolina; and Tom Foreman Jr. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

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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.”