President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Republicans would no longer hold their 2020 convention in Charlotte, North Carolina this August because of size restrictions and safety protocols put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Millions of dollars and 18 months of work had already been put into the convention, which was expected to bring $188 million in economic development into the city.
The President was reportedly angry about North Carolina Democratic governor Roy Cooper’s insistence that convention attendees wear face masks and use social distancing measures. Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday evening to blame Cooper for refusing “to guarantee that we can have use of the Spectrum Arena.”
In a series of tweets, the President wrote that “Governor Cooper is still in Shelter-in-Place Mode, and not allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised. We are now forced to seek another state to host the 2020 Republican National Convention.”
A Republican official confirmed that the event would be held in another city, but did not say where.
Hours later Cooper responded that “we have been committed to a safe RNC convention in North Carolina and it’s unfortunate they never agreed to scale down and make changes to keep people safe. Protecting public health and safety during this pandemic is a priority.”
Convention chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said that there was no clarity on what a scaled-down convention would look like, which prevented the RNC from being able to plan events. “Currently, you allow 10 people to gather indoors. Is that what scaled down means? Or is it 100 people? 1,000 people? Total lack of clarity from you,” she wrote to Cooper on Twitter.
Fortune visited Spectrum Arena and the RNC offices in Charlotte in February. There, a full staff worked to prepare the four-day convention with an expected 50,000 visitors, 15,000 members of the media, 2,500 delegates, and 3,200 events. The RNC was also closing in on its goal of raising nearly $70 million to fund the events. Contracts with local restaurants and a number of partner hotels had been signed, and custom-made podiums and lighting had been designed for the arena.
During the visit, RNC staff stressed how integrated they had become with the city of Charlotte, moving their families and putting their children in local schools.
The location of the convention was also carefully curated to aide Trump in the 2020 election. North Carolina is an important swing state for Republicans: Trump won there in 2016 by 173,315 votes (3.67 points), and polling shows that Biden and the President are currently tied in the state. Trump ally Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) has called the state a “must-win” to ensure 2020 success.
But Trump has a history of conflict with the city of Charlotte, and this isn’t the first time there’s been discussion of canceling the convention.
Last summer, the Charlotte city council voted, nine to two, to condemn Trump’s “racist and xenophobic social media posts and comments” and “all hate speech, bigotry, racism, and discrimination wherever it may occur, especially in the highest levels of government.” The vote came after a crowd at a Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina shouted “send her back” about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
At the time, the council also discussed ending the RNC contract and stopping the convention. City attorney Patrick Baker, however, concluded that it would be impossible. “I don’t believe you will be able to walk away from this contract even if you were willing to pay the financial penalties,” he told the council. “I don’t believe you would be allowed to walk away.”
Now, it’s the RNC walking away from the contract, and Baker who will explore legal action. On Tuesday evening the city of Charlotte wrote in a tweet that “we have a contract in place with the RNC to host the convention and the City Attorney will be in contact with the attorneys for the RNC to understand their full intentions.” They also noted that they had “yet to receive any official notification from the Republican National Committee regarding its intent for the location of the convention.”
COVID-19 has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States. North Carolina is currently experiencing a surge in the disease, with more than 30,000 confirmed cases.
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