FLORIDA -- Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters said he was surprised to learn Thursday afternoon that President Trump had abruptly decided to cancel the Jacksonville portion of the Republican National Convention. But the Sarasota-based lawmaker said he had a premonition when the president conceded earlier this week that the coronavirus pandemic will probably “get worse before it gets better.”
“I thought we were in trouble when I heard him say that,” Gruters admitted on Friday afternoon.
The Republican National Committee now says that a “few hundred delegates” will be in Charlotte, North Carolina on August 24 for convention business. Florida will be represented by six delegates: Gruters, RPOF Vice Chair Christian Ziegler, Florida Republican National Committeeman Peter Feaman, Florida RNC Committeewoman Kathleen King, RPOF Secretary Kristy Banks, and RPOF Assistant Treasurer Jeremy Evans.
That decision was made with the entire Florida convention delegation in a phone call last week, Gruters says.
Not every Florida Republican is pleased with the decision to cancel Jacksonville. Central Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini tweeted that it was a mistake. That’s a sentiment shared by Jake Hoffman, the president of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans.
“The way that it was shaping out to turn out, it was going to end up being a fairly small event,” said Hoffman, who was elected to be an alternate delegate to the convention. “I think that they had socially distanced everybody, they were only allowing delegates and alternative delegates to a lot of the events. It didn’t seem like it was going to be this massive RNC like you’re used to seeing. And because of that, I thought that everything was under control and everything was going to turn out just fine.”
Jacksonville Democratic City Councilman Garrett Dennis says his city dodged a bullet.
“It was just irresponsible of our mayor and those individuals that were pushing it, after every poll showed that the citizens did not want it here. Democrats and Republicans. It was consistent across party lines,” he said.
A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday showed that 62 percent of Floridians thought it was unsafe to hold the convention in Jacksonville.
Another major blow came earlier this week when Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams said that he didn’t believe he could provide adequate security for the convention.
“It’s not my event to plan, but I can just tell you that what has been proposed in my opinion is not achievable right now -- from a law enforcement standpoint, from a security standpoint,” Williams told POLITICO.
Councilman Dennis believes those comments played a “huge factor“ with his colleagues on the council, who were going to vote on an emergency spending bill next Tuesday to release money paying for the city’s security obligations for the convention.
“My colleagues respect his leadership, even though he has not gotten a handle on crime,” he said.
When the Republican National Committee announced that they were going to move major parts of the convention from North Carolina to Florida last month, the Sunshine State wasn’t considered to have a major problem when it came to coronavirus infections.
Now it’s become an epicenter. In Duval County, of the 129 deaths related to the virus, 29 have come in the last week. Jacksonville has also been going through a crime wave this summer as well.