As vice-chair of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party, Sarah Reidy-Jones did not want to leave anything to chance. She had been pitching Charlotte’s case to host the Republican National Convention to the local and national media. She began collecting names of potential volunteers and organizing surrogates to speak on the convention’s behalf to a divided Charlotte City Council. She called members of the Republican National Committee that she knew to sing the praises of North Carolina and the Queen City.
And in July of 2018, she made one final push. She traveled on her own dime to the RNC summer meeting in Austin, Texas to try and shake the hands of every member of the site selection committee, thank them for considering Charlotte and to answer questions about its ability to serve as host. She quickly designed and printed rolls of stickers pledging “I Support #RNCinCLT” and passed them out to attendees.
Reidy-Jones pledged that the local party would recruit 10,000 volunteers and do everything they could to make the convention successful. She worked with the local press pool that had traveled to Austin and gave live interviews in the 106-degree Texas heat.
As dawn broke on July 18, 2018, Reidy-Jones was driving across town to pick up specially designed Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a beloved North Carolina treat, to hand out to members of the site selection committee. As hard as she tried, she could not find a can of Cheerwine in Austin.
“It was a fun but still nerve-wracking morning. The committee appeared supportive, but we knew Vegas will still trying and there were rumors of surprise last minute bids. We felt good but we still had to wait another two days and felt like waiting for smoke signals at the Vatican,” said Reidy-Jones.
On July 19, Reidy-Jones stood arm in arm with Charlotte’s Democrat Mayor Vi Lyles and other Democrat and Republican members of the City Council and the Mecklenburg County Commissioners and hospitality leaders as Charlotte made its appeal to the entire Republican National Committee.
“It was just such a magical trip to Austin. We had Republicans and Democrats coming together for one goal: to secure this incredible opportunity for Charlotte and North Carolina. The next morning, when the entire Republican National Committee body from all 50 states unanimously picked Charlotte, it was such a fantastic moment for such a minority party in a blue city to know that we had a voice. To be joined by so many people working together from all political stripes for the good of North Carolina, it was a proud moment for all of us. Flying back to Charlotte that evening and seeing the uptown skyline lit up red is a memory I’ll always cherish,” Reidy-Jones reflected.
For Reidy-Jones and countless volunteers, the work towards that common goal has continued for two years. Two years of progress, however, was halted with the announcement by President Trump in a tweet that the convention would not be staged in Charlotte. For Reidy-Jones, as deflating as it was and as much as her heart hoped for a better outcome, mentally she knew for days the convention was lost. The sting especially pains as Reidy-Jones was excited to serve as a delegate and represent the Uptown Charlotte Republican Women as president, a club that was created because of interest in the convention within uptown Charlotte.
“With most other states getting back to normal, and North Carolina trailing behind, I sensed we might have an issue. I’m seeing my city already boarded up and hurting economically, especially in the hospitality sector. When Gov. Cooper insisted the convention would have to enforce strict social distancing measures and force all delegates and guests to wear masks, despite the RNC putting in rigorous health screenings, I knew the convention would have to move. No Republican presidential candidate could agree to those demands. No candidate would want their acceptance speech televised under those conditions. None. I hurt for my city, my state and all those, both Republican and Democrats, who worked so hard to make this happen and those so excited to experience something they otherwise wouldn’t have the access to enjoy.”
Ben York is not your typical political activist.
“When I first became interested in politics at 16, I saw pictures of people at conventions and I thought that would be really cool, it was always a dream of mine,” declared York. “But it was also something I never thought I could reach. It seemed like such a mountain to climb. I am such an introvert. When I went to my first political event at 16, I was so nervous, my hand was shaking so much I could barely write my name. But I set a goal. I wanted to become the Alamance County GOP Chair and I did. I wanted to be a delegate to the National Convention. I ran three times before I was selected. To have it in my home state made it affordable. I feel for all the people who worked so hard to put it there and all the people who work in hotels and the restaurants. I hurt for them.”
“This is a sad day for Charlotte, and a sad day for North Carolina,” said former Mecklenburg County State House member Bill Brawley, who was elected as a delegate for this year’s convention.
“I was very supportive as a freshman member of the General Assembly of the 2012, when Charlotte hosted the Democratic Convention for the re-nomination of former president Barack Obama. I was very public about my support. I was very happy we got to perform well on the national stage. I thought it was very good for North Carolina. I am disappointed we did not get the same opportunity.”
“This is one of my bucket list items. I don’t have many and this is something I have dreamed of for a very long time. When RNC 2020 selected Charlotte to host the convention, the timing was right for me. I doubt very seriously if the state of NC will ever have this opportunity again, certainly not in my lifetime,” said Fayetteville area delegate Jackie Weyhenmeyer.
“Governor Cooper is playing political games with us. When he openly marches with protesters and without a mask, but yet tells RNC 2020 that we have to scale down and that we don’t have the same First Amendment rights as the protesters and rioters, he is playing games and is politically deceitful.
“It depends on where it goes on whether I will be able to go or not, because of the increased cost,” said Johnston County delegate Darryl Mitchell.
For Davidson College student Maya Pillai, to be elected to represent Mecklenburg County as an Alternate Delegate at 21 years old was thrilling and surprising.
“It is hurtful being from Mecklenburg, that we can’t show off our city as we intended, and it is quite appalling the double standard Gov. Cooper has set. We see Cooper taking off his mask, walking with protesters with no social distancing. It is frustrating and disheartening.”
Yet, as sad as Sarah Reidy-Jones is, she still looks on the bright side of the experience and looks to a more hopeful result down the road.
“Despite our governor’s resistance, I really have seen the best of North Carolina through this process. I know that Republicans and Democrats can work together towards an important shared goal. I know because I have seen it. I have experienced it. I just hope someday we get another shot. Next time I will bring the doughnuts and definitely Cheerwine.”
Dallas Woodhouse is the Strategic Initiatives Director for the Civitas Institute. Previously he served as Executive Director of the North Carolina Republican Party and was involved in efforts to bring the 2020 RNC Convention to North Carolina.