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 Democratic 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 Charlotte-based 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.
Staff writer Gavin Off contributed.