Republican Party officials are looking closely at Jacksonville, Fla., as they scramble to find a new location to host portions of this summer’s Republican National Convention, though there’s no final decision yet.
Multiple GOP officials confirmed to Fox News that the northern Florida city is considered “a strong contender.”
Florida GOP Chairman Joe Gruters took to Twitter on Wednesday to highlight that, “While no final decision has been made by the RNC we understand Jacksonville is a front runner. This certainly has been generating a lot of attention and excitement. We continue to believe that Florida would be the best place for the Convention.”
Republican Party officials caution that the search is ongoing and remains fluid. Other possibilities include Savannah, Ga.; Nashville, Tenn.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Dallas, Texas.
“We are still considering several cities and no final decision has been made,” a Republican source familiar with convention discussions told Fox News on Wednesday.
The Washington Post – citing three Republican officials – reported early Wednesday that the party had tentatively settled on Jacksonville to host the convention’s festivities. They added that party officials were in the city and surrounding locations on Monday.
Multiple GOP sources told Fox News the report was premature.
Republican Party officials over the past week have been in the process of scouting at least 10 cities across at least eight states.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, in an interview on ‘Fox and Friends’ on Tuesday, noted that “we will have to make a decision probably within the next week as to where we’re going to have this celebration.”
The moves by the RNC come after President Trump tweeted last week that the GOP is “now forced to seek another” location other than Charlotte, N.C., to host the convention, which is scheduled to start on Aug. 24.
The president’s announcement came after North Carolina’s Democratic governor said GOP leaders needed to provide plans for a scaled-down event due to coronavirus pandemic health concerns. The party pressed for a full convention, which Gov. Roy Cooper essentially said they could not accommodate.
The fireworks over the Charlotte convention come after tense negotiations in recent weeks between Republican Party officials and Cooper’s team. The president, who aims to hold a regular in-person convention packed with thousands of officials, lawmakers, delegates, and party activists and supporters amid the coronavirus, repeatedly fired away at Cooper over the past couple weeks.
After Cooper wrote a letter to the top convention organizer and McDaniel that “planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity,” the president returned fire on Twitter.
“@NC_Governor Roy Cooper and his representatives refuse to guarantee that we can have use of the Spectrum Arena – Spend millions of dollars, have everybody arrive, and then tell them they will not be able to gain entry. Governor Cooper is still in Shelter-In-Place Mode, and not allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised,” Trump charged.
The RNC repeatedly urged Cooper to commit to allowing as many as 19,000 people in Charlotte’s Spectrum Center. But Cooper said that it’s unlikely that virus trends would allow a full-capacity nominating convention.
“We think it is unlikely that we would be to the point at the end of August to be able to have a jam-packed 19,000-person convention in the Spectrum arena,” Cooper told reporters. “So the likelihood of it being in Charlotte depends upon the RNC’s willingness to discuss with us a scaled-down convention, which we would like to do.”
RNC officials last week stressed that the mechanics of the convention will still be held in Charlotte, which was selected two years ago by the party as the site of the 2020 convention.
“The RNC’s Executive Committee has voted unanimously to allow the official business of the national convention to continue in Charlotte. Many other cities are eager to host the president’s acceptance of the nomination, and we are currently in talks with several of them to host that celebration,” RNC Communications Director Michael Ahrens told Fox News on Friday.
The party is contractually obligated to conduct some of its convention business in Charlotte and McDaniel said in an interview Thursday with Gray Television that “we are not dropping Charlotte as the convention site.”
But after the president’s tweets, the Republican governors of Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee quickly made pitches to hold portions of the convention in their states.
Jacksonville may be attractive to GOP officials because it’s the only city under consideration that has a Republican mayor. Lenny Curry made a strong pitch for the convention after problems first arose with Charlotte – saying that the city had successfully held a UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) event at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 13. The mayor offered up the same venue for the Republican convention.
While the president and the GOP remain firm on staging a mostly unchanged, in-person convention, Joe Biden and Democratic Party officials have entertained holding a scaled-down confab or even a virtual convention. Earlier this spring they pushed back the date of their Milwaukee convention from mid-July to Aug. 17.
Fox News’ Kathleen Reuschle and Fox Business Network’s Blake Burman contributed to this report.