When it comes to preparing for a national political convention in the middle of a pandemic, Republicans are staying the course.
They have their dates (Aug. 24-27), their location (Charlotte, North Carolina) and their nominee (President Donald Trump).
“We are full steam ahead planning a traditional convention, working with our team on the ground to conduct a traditional convention,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel told reporters this month.
“We do not think at this time we have to switch to an alternative plan, but of course, we will monitor circumstances and adjust accordingly.”
But some Democrats on Charlotte’s City Council have expressed reservations about moving forward with the convention during a health crisis, with one member claiming this week “we should stop this charade right now.”
Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, has 1,567 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 44 deaths. Milwaukee County, with a slightly smaller population, has 2,897 confirmed cases with 168 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon.
The upbeat assessment by Republicans is a contrast to how Democrats are handling their preparations in Milwaukee. The DNC has already been moved back a month, from July 13-16 to the week of Aug. 17 and officials are publicly weighing various contingencies.
Democratic National Chair Tom Perez told reporters last week that the party is still planning for an in-person convention.
“At the same time, we do not put our public health heads in the sand,” he said. “We don’t do that right now. We won’t do that in the run-up.”
The public stances of dealing with the crisis may also reflect how event planning has unfolded.
Charlotte has convention experience, hosting the Democrats in 2012.
“We’re planning to move forward as we always have,” said Max Everett, vice president and chief information officer for the Republican National Convention. “Like everyone across the country, we’re keeping a close eye on what the recommendations and requirements are from health officials, whether that’s the CDC and state and local folks as well.
“That’s really a priority for us moving forward. We think we’re in very good shape to do that.”
There have been no layoffs in convention staff, Everett said, and organizers are working remotely.
“Like all Americans, we’re spending an extraordinary amount of time on video chats and conference calls,” he said. “It really has not slowed down any of our planning. We’ve had a good team that has been focused. They’re executing on what they can right now.”
This is the sixth convention for Everett and for Marcia Lee Kelly, the president and chief executive officer. They helped guide Republicans through the economic crisis during the 2008 convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a storm-shortened event in 2012 in Tampa, Florida, amid Tropical Storm Isaac.
“There’s no question the pandemic is going to introduce a lot of new factors,” he said.
Convention organizers have spoken with health professionals who have been involved in public health planning but say it’s too early to know what precautions may need to be put in place.
“They’re the experts in this and they’re going to be able to help us understand and put in place all the best recommendations,” he said.
Stay-at-home order expires May 8
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, issued a stay-at-home order that is set to expire May 8, more than two weeks before Wisconsin’s order is to end.
“Governor Cooper has taken decisive action to limit mass gatherings and slow the spread of the virus,” said Ford Porter, a spokesman for the governor. “Governor Cooper has laid out a three-phase plan to begin lifting restrictions and actions will be adjusted as needed to protect the health and safety of North Carolinians.”
It’s unclear what the medical landscape will be like in the state in August.
The topic of a virtual convention has been raised in the media. But the aim is to stick with the sort of convention that delegates and Americans have grown accustomed to over the decades.
“When folks ask about a virtual convention, our plan is to go forward with a traditional convention, understanding there will be some changes to ensure the health and safety of everybody’s who here,” Everett said.
But Everett said there is always some form of virtual elements to the conventions. For instance, most people view the events via television.
“We’ve always historically had digital elements to try and engage people across the country,” he said.
Charlotte’s host committee has raised more than $50 million and has expressed confidence it will meet a $70 million goal. In addition, host committee President and Chief Executive Officer John Lassiter said more than 12,000 volunteers have been recruited.
“We’re prepared for a convention that attracts 50,000 people,” he said. “What occurs will be a function of the final plans (of the Republican Convention’s committee on arrangements) and whatever people elect to do, whether they’re delegates, media or other visitors.
“We’re now four months out and it’s hard to predict things two weeks out, much less four months.”
Still, there are some who have expressed reservations about holding the convention.
Those tensions were revealed Monday night when Charlotte’s City Council voted 6-5 to accept a federal security grant for the convention.
Council member Braxton Winston, who said “we need to stop this charade right now,” added that for “democracy’s sake we all need to come to together to figure out how to make virtual conventions work.”
Another council member, Matt Newton, suggested going back to the drawing board.
“We know we’re in a new world here, a new paradigm,” he said. “We don’t want to be the epicenter of the next outbreak. We don’t want to offer up our city as a petri dish.”
But city officials are pushing ahead.
Kerr Putney, chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, was asked by a lawmaker if he is planning on a convention that draws 50,000 people.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That is the primary priority in the planning right now for a genuine convention that will be full scale.”
Alison Dirr of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.
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