TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jacksonville, Florida, is the front-runner to host the GOP celebration marking President Donald Trump’s acceptance of his party’s nomination 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 on 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 a Republican familiar with the negotiations insisted that the RNC was considering several cities and that no final decision had been made.
Site-selection teams were visiting other locations being considered for the event, including Phoenix, Savannah, Georgia, and Dallas, according to party officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
There were indications that plans were moving forward in Jacksonville.
Hotel rooms, for instance, 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-N.C., rejected Trump’s demand that the convention be allowed to take place without social distancing measures.
“Shame on him, because he put politics over the people of his state and revenues coming into his state,” McDaniel said in the radio interview. “So it’s sad. We’re moving forward.”
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 Jacksonville area, home to a major military base, has a population of about 1.5 million. Mayor Len Curry is a former chair 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 chair 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. But much of the party’s more mundane business, including discussions over the platform, are still expected to be held in Charlotte because of contractual obligations.
“We are going to keep our convention of, the business of the convention in Charlotte. That is for sure. It’s going to be smaller and scaled down. And then we are looking for a different city for a celebration,” McDaniel explained.
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.