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North Carolina Gov. refuses Trump's demand for mask-free, full-house convention; GOP to look for new venue

NC Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has remained firm on his stand despite President Trump's pressure because of growing coronavirus cases
Trump and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (Getty Images)
Trump and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (Getty Images)

Organizers of the Republican National Convention (RNC) will look for potential alternative venues for the event after North Carolina’s governor told them the Covid-19 pandemic has created a situation where a full-fledged convention is not possible and the state could prepare only for a scaled-down ceremony, Associated Press reported.

Last month, President Donald Trump expressed his frustration with NC Governor Roy Cooper’s coronavirus restrictions and threatened to move the event out of Charlotte, where it was supposed to be held in August. The president remained adamant on his demand to have a full arena at the RNC and sought a reply from Cooper, a Democrat, on whether he would allow a full house. On Tuesday, June 2, Trump said he is looking for a new state to host this year's RNC.

Cooper did not budge despite the president’s pressure. He refused the GOP’s demand for holding a full-fledged presidential convention and wrote to the party leaders a day before the deadline that Trump set for the Tar Heel State to guarantee that it would go for a full attendance during the convention. Last Friday, May 29, Cooper told Trump and GOP officials that he could not make such a promise.

North Carolina has seen 961 deaths from coronavirus while nearly 19,000 have recovered. The state was witnessing an upward trend with cumulative cases of nearly 30,000. Around 700 Covid-19 patients are currently in hospital. Mecklenburg County saw 4,500 cases - more than twice the number in the next-highest county - and a death toll of nearly 100. Across the US, more than 106,000 people have died while the number of affected have crossed 1.8 million. 

Donald Trump and Mike Pence at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Getty Images)

“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, who will turn 63 on June 13, was quoted as saying by AP. “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.”

The GOP was not happy with Cooper’s stand. Republican National Committee Chairperson Ronna McDaniel, who was among the recipients of Cooper’s letter, said the governor was “dragging his feet” on giving them a guidance for going ahead with the convention plans. She released a statement saying while the party would like to hold the convention in Charlotte, “We have an obligation to our delegates and nominee to begin visiting the multiple cities and states” that have expressed interest in hosting.

Tennessee, Florida, Georgia interested to host RNC 

Republican-ruled states like Tennessee, Florida and Georgia have expressed interest to host the convention if NC can not. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said the GOP officials were set to check Nashville on Thursday, June 4, as a probable venue, calling the city ‘the best place in America to have a convention’.
North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley acknowledged that some changes would likely be needed but still maintained that the GOP wants a “full-scale” convention, AP added. 

“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, adding the convention could raise $200 million that would help the regional economy, especially in the hospitality industry and restaurants and bars. AP cited Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College, to say that Cooper’s popularity in North Carolina may make him look stronger than Trump in this issue and ruled out that two could strike a deal that would satisfy both sides before the deadline ended. 

He said by holding a convention in Charlotte, Trump could boost his supporters there but if he pushes too hard, then there is a risk of alienating the voters on the issue of public health. North Carolina has remained a GOP bastion over the years with the Democrats having won it only once (2008) since 1976. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by around three-and-half percentage points in the state in 2016. 

In July 2016, the Republican convention was held in Cleveland, Ohio, and Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were formally chosen as the GOP nominees for the presidential election that year.