Republicans tour Savannah as potential site for RNC meeting

Republican National Committee officials scouted Savannah Monday as a potential site for President Donald Trump's nominating convention, as Georgia leaders stepped up their efforts to aggressively maneuver for the political gathering.

Gov. Brian Kemp joined the RNC's tour of the coastal city, which came after Trump and national Republicans decided to shift most convention proceedings out of Charlotte due to a stalemate with local officials over coronavirus limits.

Kemp, who has steadily rolled back Georgia's economic restrictions, has vowed the state can "safely host" the event during the pandemic and said Monday that Georgia would "offer a truly unmatched experience" to RNC delegates.

And the state's entire Republican delegation has lobbied Trump to pick Georgia, though the appeal largely highlighted Atlanta's amenities and experience hosting other large-scale events.

Local Democrats were more skeptical. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said he's “open and willing” to hear from RNC officials but expressed concern that it could negatively affect the “health, safety and welfare of our city, her citizens and our budget.”

Savannah would not typically be in the running for such a major gathering, which draws tens of thousands of visitors. Four years ago, the RNC was held in the larger cities of Cleveland, while the Democratic convention was in Philadelphia.

Credit: Patrick Semansky

Credit: Patrick Semansky

But Republican officials have indicated they would split up this year’s meeting across several different locations, clearing the way for smaller cities to make their pitch.

Some convention business will still be held in Charlotte to avoid breaking a contract, though Trump’s nominating speech on the final night of the meeting will be elsewhere.

RNC officials are also considering several other potential locations, including Nashville and the Florida cities of Jacksonville and Orlando.

It's not clear if Atlanta is under consideration, though Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has strongly opposed the idea. She has warned that inviting thousands of visitors would defy the city's "phased, data-driven approach to reopening."

Though Florida offers a larger trove of electoral votes, there's a practical political reason to put Georgia on the GOP radar.

National Republicans are increasingly concerned about holding Georgia and its two U.S. Senate seats up for grabs in November, and a spate of recent polls show tight races between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, who also took part in the tour, sounded an optimistic note about Savannah's chances. He touted the city's experience with large groups of tourists and the convention center on Hutchinson Island.

“This is also an important opportunity for our area as it would be a huge injection into our local economy with the jobs and money it will bring,” he said. “We are ready.”