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Republicans To Host In-Person National Convention Next Week In North Carolina

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week's Democratic National Convention was entirely virtual, but there's still an in-person meeting of delegates coming up Monday at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. And as Steve Harrison from member station WFAE reports, that's a city that's had a off-again-on-again relationship with the Republican Party.

STEVE HARRISON, BYLINE: Republican delegates aren't being greeted by the Charlotte mayor or even business leaders. Instead, they're ushered into a purple tent outside the Westin Hotel. That's where they're given a coronavirus test even though they already had to take a self-swab COVID test at home before getting on a plane. Delegate Steve Scheffler from West Des Moines says he wants the convention to be safe, but he says it's all a bit much.

STEVE SCHEFFLER: I mean, I'll follow the rules because it's what we're here to do to get the president renominated and the vice president. But I don't like where this might be going down the road. Maybe mandatory masks today, maybe mandatory vaccines tomorrow.

HARRISON: While delegates can leave the hotel to get dinner at night, their badges have fobs that use Bluetooth technology to track who they come in contact with, says the RNC's health consultant Dr. Jeffrey Runge.

JEFFREY RUNGE: It's completely private. The badges have a number, and we will know what numbers are in contact with other numbers, but they won't be identified with a person unless there is someone who is positive for COVID.

HARRISON: The GOP created a semi bubble to satisfy the state's Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, who has been cautious about reopening. It slashed the number of people coming to just 336 delegates. A traditional convention has nearly 2,500. It's requiring masks and temperature checks, and it says delegates can't even move their chairs to make sure everyone stays six feet apart. Earlier this summer, Republicans moved most of their convention to Jacksonville, Fla., because Cooper wouldn't let President Trump pack Charlotte's downtown arena. But as cases rose in Florida, Trump reluctantly canceled the events there, saying, quote, "the timing of the event is not right." That left Charlotte.

LARKEN EGLESTON: I don't think anyone's going to be sad to see the RNC packing up and leaving town when they do.

HARRISON: That's Charlotte Democratic city Council Member Larken Egleston speaking Friday. He cast the deciding vote two years ago to host the GOP's convention.

EGLESTON: Just been one thing after another. And even four days out, I don't think there's still any certainty around exactly what this is going to look like.

HARRISON: Delegates are only in Charlotte through Monday to vote for President Trump's nomination. He might show up in person for that, but the rest of next week's convention will be virtual. Even before the pandemic, the idea of hosting President Trump's convention divided this heavily Democratic city. Activists pasted stickers around town mocking the Democratic mayor, Vi Lyles, and Egleston for agreeing to host.

EGLESTON: Mine said one-term Larken. Vote him out for selling us out. But in what was a big mistake for an attack ad, used what I think is a pretty decent picture of me from my wedding day.

HARRISON: Lyles is out of town this weekend, making good on a 2018 pledge not to speak at the convention. And there are only a few banners welcoming delegates, a similar amount of pomp for an American Legion convention. John Lassiter is a longtime Republican who raised $38 million as the CEO of the local host committee for the traditional convention. He was shocked when the GOP announced they were leaving for Florida. He's not attending any part of the scaled-back convention.

JOHN LASSITER: No, I mean, we're not connected at all at this point to whatever goes on. We're fully focused on our efforts to finish our wind down.

HARRISON: By winding down, Lassiter means settling broken contracts for a convention that didn't happen. The city of Charlotte has spent $17 million dollars preparing for the event. Leaders are keeping their fingers crossed that the federal government pays them back.

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

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