After North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told the president he could not fête himself in Charlotte with a packed hall of sweating, cheering MAGA enthusiasts during a pandemic, Trump instructed the Republican National Committee to look for another place to hold the 2020 convention, or at least the “celebratory” parts of it — like POTUS’s acceptance speech. It’s not official yet, but the Washington Post is reporting that the RNC has settled on the northeast Florida city of Jacksonville as the alternative site.
The details of the arrangement are still in flux and RNC aides are scrambling to determine whether the northern Florida city has enough hotel rooms to accommodate the quadrennial event, which typically kicks off the final stretch of the presidential campaign …
The convention’s more routine and lower-profile meetings still would take place in Charlotte, the original host site for the convention, according to two officials. Those smaller meetings are intended to honor the RNC’s contractual obligation to hold its convention in North Carolina and shield the party from lawsuits for moving the large events elsewhere.
Jacksonville’s appeal to Republicans is twofold: It’s a Republican-governed city in a Republican-governed state, which presumably means no hassles over mask or social-distancing requirements, and it’s not too far (382 miles) from Charlotte, in case delegates and party officials have to spend some time in both cities.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a big buddy of the president’s, and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry have both lobbied for a chunk of the convention. That’s not to say there aren’t some local jitters, as WFAE reports:
Jacksonville Republican City Council member Matt Carlucci said Wednesday the city hasn’t taken any votes on hosting. He said he’s concerned about the possible negative health impacts of bringing 50,000 people to the city.
It has also been noted that the final day of the convention, which normally concludes with the big moment of the president’s acceptance speech, is on August 27, which will be the 60th anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday, when a white mob attacked peaceful African-American sit-in demonstrators at a lunch counter in Jacksonville and then ran wild, attacking every black person in sight.
Hotel space could be a problem. The Florida Times-Union reports that one option is to anchor cruise ships in the city’s harbor (on a river near the Atlantic Ocean), but it’s unclear whether Republican revelers will be happy to bunk down in a floating petri dish. The big events would be held in the VyStar Arena, which seats 15,000, a bit smaller than the venue in Charlotte but certainly capable of giving Trump the mass-adulation experience he craves.
Jacksonville has a consolidated government with surrounding Duval County, making it the largest city in Florida, with a population just under a million. Trump carried Duval narrowly in 2016. A local boost in November might help Republicans carry this must-win state. But only if Trump’s party doesn’t become a COVID-19 super-spreader event. The official decision on convention location should come this week.