Announcement looms on Republican convention city; Jacksonville ‘absolutely’ front-runner

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The GOP is moving closer to deciding which city will host the celebratory aspects of this summer’s Republican National Convention, with an announcement possible as early as Thursday.

And all eyes are on Jacksonville, Fla.

Fox News confirmed on Wednesday that the northeastern Florida city was seen by Republican officials as a “strong contender.”

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Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Wednesday in an interview on Hugh Hewitt's radio program that “Jacksonville is absolutely in the front-runner position.” But she stressed that no final decision had been made.

And Florida GOP Chairman Joe Gruters took to Twitter the same day 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."

RNC officials were scouting in Jacksonville on Monday and returned to the city on Wednesday.

Party officials have been scrambling to find a new convention location 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 and Republican officials were angered after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina said he wasn’t prepared to guarantee the RNC a full-fledged convention with an arena packed with party officials, delegates and activists due to health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.  North Carolina is among at least 10 states that have seen a spike in new coronavirus cases since Memorial Day.

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Following the president’s announcement, the RNC quickly considered at least 10 cities in eight states as possible contenders to host the the convention – including the president’s acceptance of the nomination -- with teams visiting most of the cities. And early last week 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, a former state Republican Party chair, 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.

The RNC’s executive committee voted on Wednesday night to dramatically scale back the convention's business aspects, which are still going to be held in Charlotte.

The committee moved to limit the in-person participation in Charlotte to just 336 delegates, far less than the more than 2,500 that would normally attend. The committee also voted to make no changes to the 2016 Republican convention platform.

The executive committee voted last week to keep the mechanics of the convention in Charlotte, which was selected two years ago by the party as the site of the 2020 convention. The party is contractually obligated to conduct some of its convention business in Charlotte.

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’ John Roberts and Kathleen Reuschle contributed to this report.