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Politics / Issues

Duval GOP: Jacksonville A ‘Leading Alternative’ If Trump Moves RNC

Downtown Jacksonville
Downtown Jacksonville

With President Donald Trump's tweet Tuesday night that the GOP is “forced to seek another State to host the 2020 Republican National Convention,” the Duval County Republican Party is renewing its call to bring the convention to Jacksonville.

"It's clear that Jacksonville is emerging as the leading alternative to Charlotte for the Convention," said Dean Black, Chairman of the Republican Party of Duval County in an email to WJCT News. "We were proud to start the #RNCtoJAX campaign more than a week ago and are thrilled to see so much support from Republicans across our state."

The president tweeted after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said Tuesday it's "very unlikely" the state can permit a full-capacity Republican National Convention in Charlotte to go forward this summer.

"The people of North Carolina do not know what the status of COVID-19 will be in August, so planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity," Cooper wrote Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

Related:  Local, State And National Coronavirus Coverage

President Trump shot back Tuesday evening on Twitter, saying Cooper is "still in Shelter-In-Place Mode."

An RNC official said Tuesday the committee still hopes to conduct the official business of the convention in Charlotte, but that President Trump may make his acceptance speech in a different city.

After Trump  threatened to move the convention last week, top GOP officials gave Cooper a deadline of Wednesday to specify the conditions under which the convention in the 19,000-seat Spectrum Arena could proceed.

The uncertainty over the convention's fate comes less than three months before the gathering in a state that Trump won in 2016 and is crucial to his reelection effort.

Related:  Local, State And National Election Coverage

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry led the pitch to bring the convention to the Bold New City of the South shortly after Trump originally threatened on Memorial Day to pull the convention out of Charlotte.

The mayor suggested hosting the convention at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Downtown Jacksonville, calling it a "world class" facility.

As part of his pitch, the mayor pointed out that the city successfully hosted what he said was the world’s first live pro-sporting event since the advent of COVID-19. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hosted shows in Jacksonville earlier this month, which were telecast on Pay-Per-View.

The UFC competitions in Jacksonville were held without an audience. President Trump has made it clear he wants “full attendance” at the GOP convention.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has also expressed support for moving the convention to Florida.

While the local GOP would like to see the convention in Jacksonville, not everyone wants it. A petition drive has been launched on Change.org to keep it out of the River City. The petition, which had more than 800 signatures at the time of this story's publication, says it would bring with it the largest protests in the history of the country. "The damages incurred will take years to recover from," the petition claims.

Petition organizer Richard Borders and Duval County GOP Chairman Dean Black will be among the guests on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross Thursday at 9 a.m. on 89.9 FM and WJCT.org.

President Trump won Duval County and Florida in 2016. In Duval County he came away 48.48% of the vote in 2016, compared to 47.12% for Hillary Clinton.

However, there are more registered Democrats (263,785) than Republicans in Duval County (225,136), according to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections.

Jacksonville’s arena has a capacity of up to 15,000, while the Spectrum Center in Charlotte can accommodate up to 20,200.

The VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.
Credit VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena
The VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.

The Spectrum Center is shown in downtown Charlotte, N.C.
Credit Chuck Burton / Associated Press
The Spectrum Center is shown in downtown Charlotte, N.C.

Both venues were built in 2003. Jacksonville’s arena has hosted shows by Paul McCartney, Elton John, Garth Brooks and Disney On Ice. It’s also the home to the ECHL Icemen hockey team, NAL Jacksonville Sharks arena football team, and the ABA Jacksonville Giants minor league basketball team.

The Spectrum Center’s biggest tenant is the NBA Hornets. It also hosts concerts, wrestling, and other entertainment events.

- NPR's Steve Harrison contributed to this report.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

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