CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - The U.S. Republican National Convention got underway Monday, with party stalwarts renominating President Donald Trump for a second term in the White House and the chief executive himself set to unleash attacks on Democratic opponent Joe Biden for four straight nights.
Last week, Democrats, wary of gathering in large numbers in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, nominated the former vice president as their presidential candidate at a virtual convention.
The Republicans are planning a different scenario, meeting Monday in the mid-South city of Charlotte, North Carolina. President Trump arrived in Charlotte Monday afternoon as delegates formally nominated him to be the Republican presidential candidate.
"This is the most important election in the history of our country,” Trump said in remarks to delegates. He also accused Democrats of planning to rig the election with mail-in ballots.
From Tuesday to Thursday, most of the action will take place in Washington. Trump plans to make his renomination acceptance speech on the South Lawn of the White House on the last night of the convention, concluding with a crescendo of fireworks.
Delegates in Charlotte are subject to regular temperature checks and daily testing for COVID-19. All were required to be tested before they left their states, and throughout the convention they are wearing devices to enable contact tracing.
On Sunday, barricades were being put up for blocks around the Charlotte Convention Center as 336 delegates conducted meetings in the nearby Westin hotel.
The size of the Republican gathering will be downscaled, just not as much as the Democrats’ conclave. Gone at both party conventions are the thousands of delegates who have crammed into arenas and stadiums at quadrennial conventions in years past.
"I live 15 minutes from the arena, and yet I'm not going to be part of it," Sarah Reidy-Jones, the vice chairman of the Mecklenburg County GOP, told VOA.
Reidy-Jones was one of North Carolina's delegates to the convention, but because of the downscaling, the closest she would get to the convention center was dropping off a fellow delegate there Sunday morning.
"It's really emblematic of everything shutting down right now across the country," she said.
Delegates at work
Delegates in attendance formally renominated the 74-year-old Trump for another four-year term after he won the 2016 election.
Some of the speeches by Republican leaders later in the week extolling Trump’s presidency are being delivered at an auditorium not far from the White House.
"It is disappointing, especially to the businesses downtown, that were really looking forward to the economic impact that the convention would have brought with it," John Steward, chairman of North Carolina's 9th Congressional district Republican Party, told VOA.
"But it's still exciting to be in North Carolina and to have the president here and everybody from across the country, at least those that can, to be able to experience the city and see it,” Steward said.
While Trump narrowly won the state of North Carolina in the 2016 presidential election, Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, has historically voted blue in both local and national elections. Charlotte, which hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2012, is governed by a Democratic mayor, and the state's governor is also a Democrat.
Protests against the RNC have been held in downtown Charlotte over the weekend. On Monday, at least one protest has been planned by the group "Resist RNC." A "Never Trump" convention, organized by moderate Republicans, is also expected to be held Monday a few blocks from the convention site.
Biden, as he accepted his party’s presidential nomination last week, contended that Trump had created a “season of darkness in America” in which he had failed to control the unrelenting pandemic while millions of workers have lost their jobs. “We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege,” Biden said.
Trump claimed that “the Democrats held the darkest and angriest and gloomiest convention in American history.” He accused them of “attacking America as racist and a horrible country that must be redeemed.”
Republicans are billing their convention as "Honoring the Great American Story." The Trump campaign said that each night will include remarks from political leaders as well as "everyday Americans whose stories are filled with hope and patriotism."
All three living former Democratic presidents — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — along with 2004 nominee John Kerry and 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton, spoke on behalf of Biden at the Democratic convention. But neither former Republican President George W. Bush nor 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who now is a Utah senator and a Trump critic, is on the Republican convention schedule.
Monday’s speakers for Trump include South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, the lone Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, Nikki Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son.
Also on the Monday schedule are Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a St. Louis, Missouri, couple who drew national attention in June for brandishing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their home as they marched by. The McCloskeys face criminal charges, the unlawful use of a weapon, in the incident.
First lady Melania Trump is speaking on behalf of her husband on Tuesday, likely from the White House, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and two more of Trump’s adult children, Eric Trump and Tiffany Trump, are also making a pitch on behalf of their father.
The Wednesday convention schedule includes Vice President Mike Pence, speaking from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, where U.S. soldiers defended the young country from a British attack in 1814, inspiring the writing of the U.S. national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Other Wednesday speakers include Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.
The Thursday list, before Trump’s acceptance speech, includes Housing Secretary Ben Carson, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and the fourth of Trump’s adult children, Ivanka Trump, who is a White House adviser to her father.