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GOP Gives North Carolina Governor A Deadline To Discuss Conditions For Hosting RNC

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

North Carolina's Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said today it is very unlikely his state can permit a packed Republican National Convention to go forward this summer. Top GOP officials had given Gov. Cooper tomorrow as a deadline for meeting the party's conditions under which the convention could be held. Steve Harrison of member station WFAE reports this week's ultimatum is the latest chapter in Charlotte becoming an unenthusiastic host.

STEVE HARRISON, BYLINE: Charlotte wants to be seen as a world-class city. That longing for a global stage goes back decades, says Bob Morgan, a former leader of the city's Chamber of Commerce.

BOB MORGAN: Someone once famously described us in the 1950s as saying that when the Russians launch missiles against the United States, if Charlotte's not on the list, we would be very disappointed because we would rather be incinerated than seem small (laughter).

HARRISON: That ambition led to Charlotte hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and a bid on President Trump's Republican National Convention this August. But the mostly Democratic city was embarrassed when civic and political leaders realized that no other municipality submitted a formal bid for the RNC.

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JUSTIN HARLOW: Somebody said there's a fool in every room. And if you look around and can't find them, then maybe it's you. It's important to ask why no other local government in America is bidding on this convention.

HARRISON: That's former city council member Justin Harlow in 2018. That was when the bid was just about President Trump - before the coronavirus pandemic, before violent protests over George Floyd. COVID-19 has led to a dizzying back-and-forth between the GOP and North Carolina over the convention. For much of April and May, top Republicans like Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, said they were willing to hold a less crowded convention with delegates wearing masks. But Trump wants something different - 19,000 people in the arena, no face coverings, no social distancing.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't want to have it where we get there and then they announce after all the money was spent, all the work was done, all the people travel in, guess what? You can't put anybody in the arena, or you can put a tiny number of people in the arena.

HARRISON: The RNC changed course and demanded the state sign off on a relatively normal convention. Today, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper responded to the RNC's demands and said a packed arena is, quote, "very unlikely."

Charlotte Republican City Council member Ed Driggs supports hosting the convention but is pessimistic.

ED DRIGGS: I don't see any satisfactory way out.

HARRISON: The city has already started buying police equipment to prepare for the RNC. The Justice Department is contractually obligated to reimburse Charlotte, but as a businessman, Trump has a history of unpaid bills.

Meanwhile, the city's tourism industry is desperate. Bill DeLoache is the general manager of the DoubleTree Hotel. April's revenue was $125,000, compared to $800,000 a year ago.

BILL DELOACHE: It was very disheartening. And I finally quit listening to the news 'cause it's like no - neither side really seemed to want to make it work.

HARRISON: Democratic city council member Malcolm Graham says most emails and phone calls he receives are against hosting.

MALCOLM GRAHAM: People are now voicing not only concerns about the public health, but they're voicing concerns about the public safety.

HARRISON: So far, Charlotte's protests have been mostly peaceful, but there has been property damage downtown. McDaniel and Vice President Mike Pence say the convention may move. Among the options are Georgia, Florida, Tennessee or Texas.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Harrison in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.