‘THIS IS NOT JUST ABOUT CHAR­LOTTE’

Repub­li­cans around the re­gion are cheer­ing the RNC

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ELY PORTILLO, RACHEL JONES AND MYAH WARD ely­por­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

When the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion comes to Char­lotte, the party will pick its 2020 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee in a county that voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016 by al­most a 2-1 mar­gin.

But the angst that’s cropped up in Char­lotte over the RNC — which City Coun­cil ap­proved by one vote Mon­day, in a 6-5 de­ci­sion — isn’t mir­rored in the much red­der sur­round­ing coun­ties, where news of the city’s se­lec­tion has been greeted with joy.

“From a re­gional per­spec­tive or state per­spec­tive, I think this is an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity ... It’s a big, big deal,” said Dan Barry, chair­man of the Union County GOP. The vote there in 2016 was al­most the ex­act re­verse of Meck­len­burg: Union County went 2-1 for Trump.

“We’re a red-meat, red county,” said Barry. “I call it ‘the dough­nut,’” he said of the Repub­li­can-lean­ing coun­ties around Char­lotte.

The se­lec­tion of Char­lotte to host the likely renom­i­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump thrusts the city into the na­tional spot­light again, af­ter hold­ing the Demo-

cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in 2012. The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee named Char­lotte the site of the 2020 con­ven­tion Fri­day at its sum­mer meet­ing in Austin, Texas.

Res­i­dents in the sur­round­ing coun­ties in­ter­viewed by the Ob­server mostly said they’re look­ing for­ward to the con­ven­tion.

In­dian Trail res­i­dent Tony Lopp said hav­ing the RNC in Char­lotte will show the ex­tent of pub­lic sup­port for Trump, which he said the me­dia ig­nore. The con­ven­tion would also give Char­lotte a chance to show the city can work across party lines.

“It would be good for Char­lotte to show that we’re do­ing it, that we can get along,” he said. He plans to vote for Trump again, and hopes he’ll win the next elec­tion.

Lopp, 73, also said he would go to Char­lotte to see the pres­i­dent — and that he’s not wor­ried about the pos­si­bil­ity of protests.

“I’m just a poor old South­ern boy. If I go up there and some­one raises Cain at me, I’d just knock the hell out of them,” he said.

The 2020 con­ven­tion will fol­low a decade of tremen­dous suc­cess for the N.C. Repub­li­can Party, the third-largest group in the state with about 2 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers, trail­ing Democrats (2.6 mil­lion) and un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers (2.1 mil­lion).

In 2010, vot­ers gave Repub­li­cans con­trol of the Gen­eral Assem­bly for the first time since the 1800s, and the party now holds a veto-proof ma­jor­ity. The party has held both of the state’s U.S. Se­nate seats since Thom Til­lis’ elec­tion in 2014. The lone dark spot for Repub­li­cans was for­mer Gov. Pat McCrory’s nar­row de­feat last year, fol­low­ing con­tro­ver­sies over House Bill 2, LGBT rights and toll lanes on In­ter­state 77.

The con­ven­tion could high­light the stark po­lit­i­cal di­vide be­tween ur­ban Char­lotte and the sub­ur­ban and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties around the city. Ur­ban ar­eas have be­come in­creas­ingly Demo­cratic in North Carolina, with Clin­ton car­ry­ing mostly ur­ban coun­ties such as Wake, Durham and Meck­len­burg in 2016.

That dy­namic was on dis­play at Mon­day’s City Coun­cil hear­ing, where some Demo­cratic coun­cil mem­bers said host­ing the RNC would be im­moral, with Trump at the helm of the party.

Coun­cil mem­ber Brax­ton Win­ston called Trump a “hu­man avatar of white supremacy,” while Justin Har­low said he would no sooner wel­come Trump to Char­lotte than a Ku Klux Klan rally.

“Char­lotte is a sea of blue sur­rounded by deep, deep red,” said Larry Shaheen, a Char­lot­te­based Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant. “Ev­ery other part of this re­gion is red.”

To be sure, many Meck­len­burg res­i­dents are ex­cited by the con­ven­tion, which or­ga­niz­ers prom­ise will bring a boost to lo­cal busi­nesses and un­par­al­leled pub­lic­ity to Char­lotte. On Thurs­day, about 50 peo­ple at­tended a Meck­len­burg County Repub­li­can Party cel­e­bra­tion at J. Sam’s Wine Bar.

There are al­most 170,000 reg­is­tered Repub­li­can vot­ers in Meck­len­burg, con­cen­trated in the county’s north­ern and south­east­ern precincts. The vote tal­lies in 2016 from those precincts looked more like the sur­round­ing coun­ties, with Trump car­ry­ing many by a healthy mar­gin. For ex­am­ple, Trump won the north­ern precinct that cov­ers much of Cornelius al­most 2-to-1.

N.C. Repub­li­cans plan to take ad­van­tage of the RNC an­nounce­ment to en­er­gize their vot­ers. The party is hold­ing a vol­un­teer re­cruit­ment event in up­town Char­lotte the even­ing of Aug. 4. Barry said the RNC will of­fer the chance to show off the ef­fect of poli­cies such as tax cuts and dereg­u­la­tion in North Carolina, while also of­fer­ing the op­por­tu­nity to rally Repub­li­cans.

“It’s a big, big deal, and it’s not lost on me that we’ll have in 2020 a gover­nor’s race, a pres­i­den­tial race and a U.S. Se­nate race,” he said. “Let’s not for­get, we still need to go win some elec­tions.”

In Cabar­rus County, where Trump held one of his fi­nal ral­lies in the wan­ing days of the 2016 race, Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Lanny Lan­caster said he’s look­ing for­ward to eco­nomic ben­e­fits spilling over from the main event in Char­lotte.

“It’s about the re­gion and the state. Ev­ery ho­tel room prob­a­bly within a 50-mile ra­dius will be booked up,” said Lan­caster.

In 2012, the DNC ho­tel as­sign­ments for del­e­gates stretched from Con­cord to up­town Char­lotte to SouthPark, with mem­bers of the me­dia and other vis­i­tors fill­ing many other rooms. In 2016, the RNC drew about 48,000 peo­ple to Cleve­land, the host com­mit­tee said. That re­gion has fewer ho­tel rooms than Char­lotte (34,000 vs. about 40,000 pro­jected in 2020), and ho­tels out­side downtown Cleve­land av­er­aged 88 per­cent oc­cu­pancy dur­ing the con­ven­tion.

Lan­caster said he’s also heard ru­mors of the RNC ey­ing Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way and zMax Drag­way as po­ten­tial venues for con­ven­tion events, a prospect he’s ex­cited for. The 2012 DNC had planned to hold a La­bor Day cel­e­bra­tion at the speed­way but moved it up­town.

He was a del­e­gate to the 2016 RNC in Cleve­land, where he voted to nom­i­nate Trump and at­tended RNC-re­lated events, in­clud­ing a Rick Springfield con­cert and a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Lan­caster said that he hopes Char­lotte has the same en­thu­si­asm for host­ing that Cleve­land did.

“Cleve­land re­ally rolled out the red car­pet for the Repub­li­cans, and they had the city in im­mac­u­late shape,” Lan­caster said.

Still, even some Repub­li­cans said they have mis­giv­ings about the pres­i­dent in 2020.

Mon­roe res­i­dent Vi­vian Roberts said she sup­ports the RNC com­ing to Char­lotte, and thinks the city will ben­e­fit from the eco­nomic im­pact. She’s a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can who voted for Trump in 2016. But she said he won’t get her vote again, and she won’t be at­tend­ing the 2020 RNC if Trump comes to Char­lotte.

“He may be a great leader, but he is not a diplo­mat, and I do not like his style at all,” she said.

Gary Wert, who re­cently moved to Mon­roe from Florida, said he fer­vently hopes to cast his vote for Trump in 2020.

“I pray to God he runs again. He needs to,” Wert said. “He’s the best thing that this coun­try has had in many, many years. I’m 70 years old, I’ve been around.”

He and his wife, Kim­berly Wert, are look­ing for­ward to com­ing to the con­ven­tion in Char­lotte.

“That would be re­ally cool,” Kim­berly Wert said.

PHOTOS BY JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Don­ald Trump ar­rives at a cam­paign rally in Con­cord in March 2016. Coun­ties sur­round­ing Char­lotte voted heav­ily for Trump that year.

Sup­port­ers greet Don­ald Trump in Con­cord in 2016. Cabar­rus Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Lanny Lan­caster says he’s look­ing for­ward to eco­nomic ben­e­fits in 2020.

JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

“It’s about the re­gion and the state. Ev­ery ho­tel room prob­a­bly within a 50-mile ra­dius will be booked up,” said Cabar­rus County Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Lanny Lan­caster of the 2020 GOP con­ven­tion in Char­lotte.

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