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As Trump pushes to move GOP convention, Jacksonville, Orlando in contention

“We welcome the opportunity to host the @GOPconvention in Jacksonville,” Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted Tuesday night.

Officials from the Republican National Committee plan to visit at least two Florida cities as possible landing spots for a celebration of President Donald Trump’s reelection nomination now that Trump has vowed to move his party’s summer convention out of North Carolina.

Orlando and Jacksonville are under consideration as locations for Trump to give his acceptance speech, an RNC official told McClatchy. Dallas, Nashville, New Orleans and Phoenix are also on the list.

“I’ve talked with the folks at the [Republican National Committee],” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Wednesday afternoon, about 12 hours after Trump said the RNC would seek a new host city outside of Charlotte. “Orlando, just because of the hotel capacity and arena, would be an obvious place. I know Jacksonville is very much interested in having it.”

“I’ve talked with the folks at the [Republican National Committee],” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Wednesday afternoon, about 12 hours after President Donald Trump said the Republican National Committee would seek a new host city outside of Charlotte. “Orlando, just because of the hotel capacity and arena, would be an obvious place. I know Jacksonville is very much interested in having it. I’ve talked to the mayor of Miami-Dade.”

Florida Republicans have been lobbying for the party to relocate its nominating convention to Trump’s home state ever since the president began expressing frustrations with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s unwillingness to guarantee a full-blown political event amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, prior to Trump’s threat on Twitter to pull the event from Charlotte, Florida Congressman Michael Waltz mentioned during a phone conversation with the president that Florida would be a more-than-willing alternative. Since then, Republicans hav at odds with Cooper, who is a Democrat, over the convention, with Trump and the Republican National Committee demanding assurances that the event will be held at “full capacity.”

Cooper on Tuesday said he could not guarantee the “full convention” envisioned by Trump and convention organizers that included 19,000 people in attendance at the Spectrum Center and nearby bars and restaurants operating at capacity. Cooper said it was “very unlikely” that Republicans could have the convention they had hoped for and offered to work on a scaled-down version — leading Trump to announce on Twitter a few hours later that the RNC would indeed seek a different host city.

“Governor Cooper is still in Shelter-In-Place Mode, and not allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised. Would have showcased beautiful North Carolina to the World, and brought in hundreds of ..millions of dollars, and jobs, for the State,” Trump tweeted. “Because of @NC_Governor, we are now forced to seek another State to host the 2020 Republican National Convention.”

DeSantis, in a Wednesday press conference at downtown Universal in Orlando, didn’t appear ready to make any guarantees about hosting a “full capacity” convention — a massive ordeal that typically includes months of planning and millions of dollars in public investment. But he did say that Florida would assume its ability to hold the convention is a “default yes.”

“This is almost three months out. We’re probably going to be able to pull it off,” said DeSantis, a close Trump ally. “But you know what? If it gets closer and you need to call an audible, heck, he has the CDC at his disposal. The president can tell us what needs to be done to be able to do it.”

In a statement Tuesday, the RNC left open the possibility of reaching a compromise with Charlotte, where the city government has a contract to host the convention. City representatives said Tuesday night they’ve yet to receive official notice from the RNC “regarding its intent for the location of the convention.” But the RNC said it expects the public portion of the convention — the prime time speeches from key party figures, including the presidential and vice presidential nominees — will move elsewhere.

“Due to the directive from the governor that our convention cannot go on as planned as required by our rules, the celebration of the president’s acceptance of the Republican nomination will be held in another city,” the spokesman said. “Should the governor allow more than 10 people in a room, we still hope to conduct the official business of the convention in Charlotte.”

Miami-Dade Mayor Gimenez, a Republican, said in a text message Wednesday that Miami “would be interested” in hosting, though he acknowledged “it would be difficult at this stage.” Dan Gelber, the Democratic mayor of Miami Beach — which at one point had hoped to hold the Democratic Party’s July gathering at its convention center — previously told the Miami Herald that “it seems totally implausible” that hosting the convention in Miami would be less risky than hosting it in North Carolina.

A spokeswoman for Orange County — where Orlando is located — told the Miami Herald that no one from the RNC has reached out “as of last night.”

“The Orange County Convention Center has not received any requests to host the RNC,” said spokeswoman Despina McLaughlin. “Additionally, the RNC has not asked for a site visit or requested to host an event at the Orange County Convention Center.”

A Republican convention in Orlando could make for awkward politics given that Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is married to Democratic congresswoman Val Demings, a potential running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Tampa has also been raised as a possibility, given that the city hosted the Republican convention in 2012.

Jacksonville-area officials, meanwhile, have made it clear how much they want to host the convention.

“We welcome the opportunity to host the @GOPconvention in Jacksonville,” Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted Tuesday night. “A $100 million local impact event would be important for our city as an event/convention destination. City is ready for world class events &ready show the world we are open for business.”

And Waltz, the congressman who discussed moving the convention to Florida with Trump late last month during a call about last weekend’s SpaceX launch, told the Miami Herald Wednesday that he mentioned the idea again with the president Saturday aboard Air Force One during a flight from Washington to Central Florida.

“I’m just still pushing for Florida,” said Waltz, a Jacksonville native, who represents a coastal district that stretches from St. Augustine Beach to Cape Canaveral. “We asked him what he was thinking and I made the point again in terms of how critical Florida is to him, and that I think we would roll out the red carpet to have the convention there. What a shot in the arm it would be.”

Waltz said he believes Florida could host the event to the satisfaction of the RNC while also hosting it safely, with proper precautions to avoid the spread of coronavirus. He said he’d love to see Jacksonville host the event, but also is pulling for Orlando, reportedly under consideration as an alternate host city.

“I’m biased. I’m from Jacksonville,” he said. “But both Jacksonville and Orlando book-end my district, and we continue to push.”

McClatchy DC reporters Francesca Chambers and Brian Murphy contributed to this report.

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