TALLAHASSEE — Jacksonville has a “99 percent” chance of hosting the Republican National Convention’s keynote events after local and state officials made a case in behind-the-scenes negotiations that the city had enough hotel rooms to accommodate such a large event.
“While no final decision has been made by the RNC we understand Jacksonville is a front runner,” Republican Party of Florida Chair Joe Gruters, co-chair of President Donald Trump’s 2016 Florida campaign, tweeted Wednesday. “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.”
A person familiar with the process said that unless there is a “huge blow up,” Jacksonville will host part of the convention, including Trump’s speech to accept his nomination as the party’s presidential candidate.
“It hits two [television] markets — Florida and Georgia — [Trump] has been to the arena and likes it, so there isn’t an issue there. I think It’s about 99 percent at this point,” said a Republican consultant involved in the process. “There was the concern about hotel rooms, but that has really been put to bed. The city has what they need.”
The consultant said lobbying by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who is a former chair of the Republican Party of Florida, was “very, very important.”
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel on Wednesday said Jacksonville was on the shortlist to host the event, but saying any talk of a done deal was “premature.”
“Jacksonville has a lot of the things we like and is in a good position,” McDaniel said on the “Hugh Hewitt Show.”
Phoenix, Nashville, Tenn., and Savannah, Ga., also are in the running, McDaniel said.
The decision will ultimately be made by a vote of the RNC’s site selection committee.
The RNC pulled the convention’s main events out of Charlotte, N.C., after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper refused to commit to a full convention due to concerns over the coronavirus. McDaniel said the business side of the convention will remain in North Carolina, but the party wants to find another city “for a celebration.”
Jacksonville, a coastal northeast Florida city, still faces hurdles, specifically hotel space. The city faced ridicule when it hosted the 2005 Super Bowl after it called cruise ships to dock along the St. Johns River that flows through downtown because it did not have enough hotel rooms.
Those concerns flared up over the weekend, but McDaniel’s comments early Wednesday seemed to indicate the party, which has had people tour the city, has the capacity to host the event.
“Jacksonville is definitely in the frontrunner position,” McDaniel said.
Some hotels would be a “a little further out” if the convention is held in Jacksonville, McDaniel said, but the capacity is there and prices would be lower than in some other cities.
DeSantis views a national political convention as an economic development engine, and has said he would welcome the Republican or Democratic conventions in Florida.
“The shape of the epidemic is just simply going to be different. Hopefully, it’s a lot better, but I think we’ll be able to make those decisions about what precautions need to be taken as you get closer,” DeSantis said last week on “Fox & Friends.”