By STEVE PEOPLES and GARY ROBERTSON
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Move over, Las Vegas. The Republican Party will host its 2020 presidential nominating convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Republican National Committee finalized its convention site on Friday, picking an East Coast swing state over Las Vegas, the only other finalist. The vote came as hundreds of Republican activists gathered in Texas for the RNC’s summer meeting.
“We are so thrilled. Congratulations, Charlotte,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said after the unanimous vote.
The pick ensures that tens of thousands of political activists, protesters and journalists will converge on Charlotte in the summer of 2020. The same city hosted the national Democratic convention in 2012.
On the ground in North Carolina earlier in the week, a divided Charlotte City Council narrowly approved a bid to welcome the convention.
Mayor Vi Lyles, Charlotte’s first black female mayor, led efforts to secure the convention, despite critics who decried the attempt because of President Donald Trump’s statements denigrating minorities, Muslims, women and the LGBTQ population.
Lyles emphasized the vote to approve the bid isn’t an endorsement of Trump.
But some were worried about the potential for upheaval outside the convention given divisions within the city, particularly in the wake of violent protests in 2016 in downtown Charlotte following a police-involved shooting of a black man.
“I do not believe that something like ’68 is going to happen in Charlotte,” said Larry Shaheen, a Charlotte-based Republican consultant, referring to the violence at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.
Given recent events in the city, he said, it would be wise for Charlotte convention organizers to begin building civic unity now for the event despite political divisions to avoid a spark “fanning into the flame.”
National political parties try to be strategic in their convention site decisions.
In North Carolina, Republicans will shower money and attention on a swing state that backed President Barack Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016.
The state’s African-American community is viewed as particularly influential. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 22 percent of North Carolina’s population is black, a higher percentage than any other presidential swing state.
Las Vegas was a finalist for the GOP convention in 2016 as well. Some Republican leaders feared the city’s reputation, and the influence of casino moguls Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn on Republican politics, might cloud the convention’s message.
Democrats, meanwhile, have narrowed their 2020 convention choices to Houston, Miami and Milwaukee. Anticipating a crowded and contentious primary battle, they’re also planning to move up their convention date to give the party more time to come together before the fall general election.
Associated Press writer Gary Robertson contributed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina.