News: CJ Exclusives

Cooper wants safety plans for the Republican National Convention as Trump threatens to relocate event

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at a COVID-19 news briefing May 14, 2020. (Pool photo)
Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at a COVID-19 news briefing May 14, 2020. (Pool photo)

UPDATED, 6:58 p.m.

North Carolina is in talks with Republican organizers to ensure the August presidential nominating convention can be held safely in Charlotte, Gov. Roy Cooper said during a Tuesday, May 26 news conference. His comments come after President Trump threatened to relocate the Republican National Convention if full attendance isn’t guaranteed. 

Meantime, some states are jumping at the idea of hosting the convention, which could draw tens of thousands of visitors. 

Trump on Memorial Day tweeted that Cooper, a Democrat, needed to inform convention planners immediately if COVID-19 restrictions would prevent a full house at the Spectrum Center for the Aug. 24-27 event. Without any such assurances, Trump suggested the convention could move to another state. 

Late Tuesday, after Cooper’s news briefing, Trump backed up his threat with a deadline: The president gave the governor a week to guarantee a convention without limits or the GOP would move it.

The Cooper administration won’t make any such guarantees. Instead, the governor said he’ll use data and science to determine what an August convention would look like. 

“I’m not surprised by anything that I see on Twitter,” Cooper said in response to Trump’s tweets. “It is OK for political conventions to be political, but pandemic response cannot be.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to Marcia Lee Kelly, CEO and president of RNC 2020, asking the organization for written plans on how to hold the convention safely. 

“The status of COVID-19 infections in our state and in the Charlotte area continues to rapidly evolve, thus, it will be important to have several scenarios planned that can be deployed depending on the public health situation,” Cohen wrote. 

The letter mentions a phone call involving RNC 2020 officials and Cooper, Cohen, and Jordan Whichard, director of intergovernmental affairs in the governor’s office. The conversation happened last week, before Trump’s tweets. 

“Already we have been in talks with the RNC about the kind of convention they would need to run and the kind of options that are on the table,” Cooper said.

The state is holding the same kinds of conversations about safety with sports teams and arena managers, the governor said. 

If Charlotte ends up losing the presidential convention, the fallout would probably fall along party lines, said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University. 

Democrats would praise Cooper for his strong, principled leadership in putting the safety of its residents above politics. Republicans would criticize the governor for mismanaging preparations for the event, Taylor said. 

A few Republican-led states are lining up to snag the convention if North Carolina loses the opportunity. 

Brian Kemp, the Republican governor of Georgia, tweeted that he hopes Trump would consider the Peach State as a host. Florida, too, wants a bite at the apple.

“Florida is committed to ensuring a safe, secure, and successful event,” said Joe Gruters, the Chair of the Republican Party of Florida, in a statement obtained by Politico

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry told Politico’s Playbook the city is interested in hosting the event. 

“In fact, we’ve demonstrated our ability to lead events in a safe, responsible way as demonstrated by the world’s first pro live sporting event” — a UFC contest earlier this month  — “since COVID-19,” said Curry. 

The COVID-19 outbreaks have left cities bereft of any type of large events, and even tourists and other visitors. Hotels and arenas likely won’t be booked, leaving room for the GOP to move in without disruption.

Still, it would be a challenge for a city to host a convention three months out, Taylor said, since organizing a major undertaking from scratch isn’t easy.

“It’s my sense that this will all be moot,” Taylor said. “By the time we get to the end of August — though we are slower than other places in reopening and our governor is more risk-averse — we are practically going to be in a place where we can host [the convention] close to normal.”