CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CN) — President Donald Trump surprised GOP delegates during their renomination vote Monday morning to renew the main attack lines of his bid to stay in the Oval Office: the coronavirus pandemic and mail-in voting.
“This is the most important election in the history of our country,” Trump said after lambasting mail-in ballots. He then accused Democrats of trying to steal the election using Covid-19 and absentee voting.
“They want to make harvesting legal all of a sudden,” Trump said, falsely comparing mail-in voting to illegal absentee ballot harvesting.
A redo election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District was called last year after the apparent Republican winner, Mark Harris, was found to have hired a campaign operative that paid people to collect unsealed ballots door-to-door in two rural counties. This practice, known as ballot harvesting, is illegal in the Tar Heel State and can be considered ballot tampering.
“In North Carolina you had a fine man, a pastor, they wanted to put him in jail for harvesting,” Trump said Monday of Harris, who he had endorsed during the 2018 midterm election.
The 2018 scheme, however, did not involve the U.S. Postal Service and there is no evidence that mail-in voting would lead to widespread voter fraud, as the president has repeatedly suggested.
He said his appearance and the nomination proceedings took place in Charlotte “out of respect” for the state.
“I felt an obligation to be here,” Trump said. “You have a governor who’s in a total shutdown mood.” He told the crowd that he guarantees the country will reopen when Nov. 4, the day after the election, comes.
Delegates kicked off the scaled-down 2020 Republican National Convention by officially renominating Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Monday morning in Charlotte.
The expected vote was unanimous and took place inside a socially distanced ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Monday’s nomination proceedings were attended by six delegates from each state and territory, for a total of 336 delegates. Each delegate was instructed to wear a mask around the convention center and was reportedly tested for Covid-19 upon arrival.
Convention Chairman Kevin McCarthy, a GOP congressman from California, confirmed the delegates and facilitated housekeeping measures before the vote for Pence.
“Today’s events reflect the unified support the Trump-Pence ticket has,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said, before slamming Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
She told delegates that this week’s convention events will be “aspirational” and “forward-looking,” saying last week’s Democratic National Convention was full of “depressing doom and gloom.”
Before the delegates began voting to officially renominate Trump, chants of “four more years!” broke out in the ballroom.
“It’s music to my ears,” McDaniel exclaimed.
State by state, Republican Party representatives cast their votes for Trump with brief and flattering speeches, most of which echoed the president’s rhetoric about “radical” Democrats.
Pence took the stage in Charlotte midway through the roll-call vote for Trump.
“It’s deeply humbling for me to come on a day like today,” the vice president said, referring to the unanimous vote for the Trump-Pence ticket.
“I’m here for one reason,” he said, “and that is not just the Republican Party, but America needs four more years of President Donald Trump in the White House.”
Pence led the delegates in reflecting on the past four years of the Trump administration, touting the president’s policies and his placement of conservative judges on federal courts.
“This week we will take our case to the American people,” he said.
All four days of the Republican National Convention were planned to take place in Charlotte until Trump began sparring with North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, over coronavirus health restrictions.
Frustrated with Cooper, the president then announced he was moving his acceptance speech and some pageantry of the convention to Jacksonville, Florida, a decision welcomed by the state’s Republican governor and the city’s mayor.
But the Jacksonville convention was later canceled by Trump due to a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the Sunshine State. The GOP then agreed on scaled-back convention events in Charlotte. Trump is now expected to accept his nomination in a speech from the White House on Thursday.
The convention, which was initially expected to bring thousands of visitors to the Queen City, sparked three nights of protests in Charlotte ahead of Monday morning’s nomination proceedings.
Following pushback over reports that the formal nomination process would be totally closed to the press, the RNC this month decided to livestream the event and allow a few media outlets to be physically present.