Florida Republicans said they would “welcome” the Republican National Convention if President Donald Trump makes good on a Twitter threat Monday to pull the party’s seminal political event from North Carolina.
“The Republican Party of Florida would welcome the opportunity to host the Republican National Convention,” state party Chairman Joe Gruters said in a statement. “Florida is committed to ensuring a safe, secure and successful event for President Trump and all attendees.”
The Republican National Committee has been planning to host its nominating convention at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte from Aug. 24 to 27. Organizers are scheduled to take over the arena in mid-July for remodeling, including raising the floor of the arena. Some 50,000 attendees had been expected — before the pandemic hit.
But Trump said on Twitter Monday that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has yet to guarantee a full-fledged convention as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus, and warned that without a commitment, the Republican National Committee could move the event to a more welcoming state.
“We would be spending millions of dollars building the arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat Governor would allow the Republican Party to fully occupy the space,” Trump wrote.
Shortly after, in an appearance on Fox News’ Fox and Friends, Vice President Mike Pence mentioned Florida when asked about Trump’s tweets. “There are states around the country ... we think of Texas, we think of Florida, Georgia — the last two states I visited last week that have made tremendous progress on reopening their communities and reopening their economies.”
A change in venue so close to the convention would be difficult, and one Republican fundraiser questioned whether donors who contributed to the Charlotte host committee would allow their money to be used to sponsor an event in a different state. Cooper’s press secretary, Dory MacMillan, responded on the North Carolina governor’s Twitter account, saying that “state health officials are working with the (Republican National Committee) and will review its plans as they make decisions about how to hold the convention in Charlotte.”
The arrangements that go into a multi-day major party convention are unlike any other mega event, said Ken Jones, the President and CEO of the Republican National Convention Host Committee in 2012, and that’s without factoring in a worldwide pandemic.
“Trying to find another city at the 11th hour would be extraordinarily difficult,” said Jones, who has worked on six GOP conventions and is an advisor to this year’s Charlotte gathering. “I’d be stunned if anyone could pull it off.”
When Tampa hosted the 2012 GOP convention, city, county and state officials spent a year planning for huge crowds of out-of-town delegates, journalists, party officials and protesters. The effort required coordinating security, hotel bookings, transportation and large-scale parties inside elaborate tents set up in city parks and on empty parking lots.
Local officials spent $48 million — much of it to pay, equip, house and feed some 3,500 law enforcement officers from around Florida — with those costs covered by a federal security grant. The Secret Service ringed the Tampa Convention Center and Tropicana Field, both of which hosted events, with miles of concrete and steel.
Other logistical challenges were technical and complex. For example, conventions require up to twice the amount of electricity as a sellout Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game, so Tampa Electric had a team of 40 people working for months on upgrading its substations and equipment.
Former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who oversaw the planning the execution of the 2012 convention, suggested Trump’s musings were just talk from a president who often makes wild declarations that don’t materialize.
“It is hard to imagine that in a city that actually pays attention to the medical experts and cares about stopping the spread of this virus, that anybody would think hosting this Convention in August would be a good idea,” said Buckhorn, a Democrat.
In a statement to McClatchy, a GOP spokesperson said that while the Republican National Committee wants to stay in Charlotte, it needs assurances from Cooper. “We will need some answers sooner rather than later, or we will be forced to consider other options,” the spokesperson said.
Florida had reported 51,746 coronavirus cases and 2,252 deaths through Monday afternoon. North Carolina counted at least 24,056 positive cases in the state and 790 deaths. But with the setting of the convention suddenly tenuous, Republicans in Florida — the most populous swing state on the electoral map and Trump’s home state — made clear Monday that they’d welcome the Republican National Committee should it look elsewhere.
Gruters, the Republican Party of Florida chairman, did not say whether he’d had any conversations with the Republican National Committee or the Trump campaign. But on Twitter, his vice chairman, Christian Ziegler, urged Trump to choose “Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, or any of our other great cities.”
Helen Aguirre Ferré, a spokeswoman for Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close Trump ally, noted Monday that the impact of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, hasn’t been as bad as some early models anticipated, and said the governor’s administration is “glad to have conversations with all who are interested in working with Florida.”
Tampa was the most recent city in Florida to host a major party’s political convention, in 2012, and the chief of police who oversaw the massive security operation is now the city’s mayor: Jane Castor. That experience might make Tampa the most attractive option.
But Tampa has already been called off the bench to host another major event, the 2021 Super Bowl, which presents its own logistical and security challenges. Castor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Miami, a finalist to host this year’s Democratic National Convention that’s now set for Milwaukee in July, has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Florida. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday that he would be open to hosting, though he said he had not had any conversations with the GOP.
Trump said on Twitter Monday that he is not interested in hosting the event at his Doral golf resort in South Florida.
It’s tempting to imagine what the Republican National Committee could do for Florida’s hospitality industry, reeling mightily from the canceled vacations, trade shows and conventions that fuel the state’s economy. In just the last few months alone, Tampa lost out on the revenue from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and Wrestlemania 36.
No doubt a national convention would bring a “tremendous injection” to the local economy, said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, the taxpayer-funded nonprofit that promotes tourism to Hillsborough County.
But even Corrada, a typically unflappable cheerleader for the region, had reservations about the timeline for any community to pull off a national party convention in less than three months.
“It’s not one that you can wave a magic wand and it happens,” he said.
Times staff writer Richard Danielson, Charlotte Observer staff writers Lauren Lindstrom and Jim Morrill, and McClatchy DC reporters Francesca Chambers and Brian Murphy contributed to this report.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.
SO YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE? Read these 10 tips first
DID YOU TEST POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS? A Tampa Bay Times reporter would like to talk to you.
LOCAL RESTAURANTS: The updated database of Tampa Bay restaurants open for dine-in or takeout
UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits
LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.