Bobby Caina Calvan and Jill Colvin
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville, Florida, is the front-runner to host the GOP celebration marking President Donald Trump's acceptance of his party's nomination to run for reelection, the Republican National Committee chairwoman said Wednesday.
Ronna McDaniel said reports of a final decision were "definitely premature." But she made clear that Jacksonville is the favorite now that Charlotte, North Carolina, the official host of this summer's Republican National Convention, has balked at promising Trump a full-blown convention free from social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic.
"There's a couple more things we need to do before we can announce that, but Jacksonville is absolutely in the front-running position," she said in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
But several Republicans familiar with the negotiations stressed that no final decision had yet been made. "Several cities are still being considered," said Emma Vaughn, a Florida-based spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. She said that convention officials were touring Phoenix; Savannah, Georgia; Dallas; and Jacksonville this week and "have been in conversations with several other potential locations."
Nonetheless, there were indications that plans were moving forward in Jacksonville. Hotel rooms have been blocked off for late August — a week after the state's Aug. 18 primary — intensifying speculation.
The RNC has spent the last week scouting locations after Gov. Roy Cooper, D-North Carolina, rejected Trump's demand that the convention be allowed to take place Aug. 24-27 without social distancing measures.
"The governor doesn't want to give an inch, and what he's doing is losing hundreds of millions of dollars for his state," Trump said Wednesday at the White House. He told reporters that many states have volunteered to host, including Texas, Georgia and Florida. "I think we're going to probably end up giving you an announcement pretty soon."
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in an earlier interview with Fox News Channel that Trump was "very frustrated with the politically motivated governor of North Carolina, who is not doing what's in the best interest of his state, which is to bring economic boom and economic activity and the great resources that would come with holding a convention."
Cooper has stressed his desire to keep residents in his state safe from the coronavirus. His press secretary, Dory MacMillan, said Wednesday that North Carolina officials have been "willing to work together with the RNC on a scaled-down event with health and safety measures, but it wouldn't be responsible to guarantee a full arena as the RNC has demanded."
The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. The pandemic has killed more than 112,000 Americans in a matter of months.
The Jacksonville area, home to a major military base, has a population of about 1.5 million. Mayor Len Curry is a former chairperson of the state Republican Party, and the area is the home base of GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a key Trump ally.
"While no final decision has been made by the RNC we understand Jacksonville is a front runner," the chairperson of the Republican Party of Florida, Joe Gruters, said in a tweet. "This certainly has been generating a lot of attention and excitement. We continue to believe that Florida would be the best place for the Convention."
Trump has made clear he no longer intends to hold the convention's marquee event — his acceptance speech — in Charlotte. The RNC voted Wednesday night to allow the party's more mundane business, including discussions over the platform, to be held in Charlotte because of contractual obligations. The RNC also approved rule procedures to allow delegates to cast their vote by proxy.
That celebration could generate at least $100 million in revenues for the host city, perhaps more.
Florida's prize of 29 electoral votes is considered crucial to Trump's bid for a second term, which could factor into the party's calculations.
Charlotte officials on Wednesday said that despite public comments from Trump and GOP officials, they had not been officially informed of any intent to move any part of the convention.
"Charlotte remains willing to work in good faith to complete its contractual obligations under the terms of the two Convention agreements," a city spokesperson, Cory Burkarth, said in a statement.