President Donald Trump is to formally accept his party’s nomination at the end of August, but Maryland’s GOP delegates won’t be heading to their riverside Jacksonville hotel, or watching colorful balloons drop on a convention floor.
The air went out of the party when Trump announced last week that he was scrapping most of the Republican convention — including all of the Florida portion — because it’s “not the right time” for a large gathering as coronavirus cases surged in the state.
The abrupt cancellation was a gut punch to Maryland’s contingent of 38 delegates and 35 alternates who had been willing to travel during a pandemic and take daily COVID-19 tests, if necessary, to attend the convention in support of Trump’s reelection bid.
As they scrambled to cancel flights and hotel rooms, Republican delegates were eager to express their unwavering support for Trump, even as most of the convention will not materialize and as his poll numbers have slipped nationally.
“My apologies to everyone for this frustrating mess,” state party chair Dirk Haire emailed to delegates. He promised that the state party would reimburse anyone “who gets stuck with a fee” after canceling their travel or hotel rooms.
Trump is overwhelmingly unpopular in Maryland, a solid blue state. National Democrats hope Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and racial justice protests will enable presumptive nominee Joe Biden to peel off Republican votes nationwide, particularly among suburban women.
But Haire said Trump’s polling among Maryland Republicans “has been remarkably consistent — between 85 and 90% [approval]. I haven’t seen any change in that.”
Haire said that, like the population in general, Maryland delegates had expressed varying viewpoints about health risks associated with an in-person convention, but that “people had just been rolling with it” and that the state’s Republicans are a “resilient” group.
“I’m naturally disappointed, because the convention would have given us the chance to show the nation our appreciation for the president,” said convention delegate Tom Kennedy of Baltimore. “We think he’s done a remarkable job and has earned a four-year job extension.”
Another Republican delegate, Faith Loudon of Pasadena, said her enthusiasm for Trump “is stronger than ever” and she sensed that her fellow state Republicans remain “excited about the president.”
Instead of the larger group that originally planned to travel to Florida, six Maryland GOP delegates will be among just over 330 national Republicans as Trump is formally nominated at the convention in late August in Charlotte, North Carolina.
For the Maryland delegates not going to Charlotte, Haire said proxy voting will be made available through a secure online portal. And there’s expected to be virtual programming in lieu of other convention activities typically done in person.
The national party abandoned its original plan to stage the entire convention in North Carolina following a disagreement with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who wouldn’t guarantee the availability of a full-scale convention because of concerns about the virus.
The Republicans then planned to hold most of the convention in Jacksonville. The Maryland delegation was set to stay with Ohio delegates in a large hotel along the St. Johns River.
“With everything else that has been going on, this is another disappointment,” said Republican state Del. Kevin Hornberger of Cecil County, who was to travel to Jacksonville with his wife, Danielle, a convention delegate.
While he had expected the convention to be more subdued than normal because of the virus, he said it would have been fun to participate in a “pep rally” atmosphere.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan won’t be among the six people representing Maryland in Charlotte. Those slots are reserved for each state’s GOP chair, delegation chair and other party officers, such as Republican National Committee members.
“He will be in Annapolis focused on Maryland,” Hogan spokesperson Mike Ricci said.
The governor has said he would consider a 2024 presidential candidacy of his own.
Hogan passed on attending the 2016 Republican convention and said he wrote in the name of his father — former U.S. Rep. Larry Hogan Sr. — in the general election. Hogan has said he hasn’t decided who he will vote for Nov. 3.
Among those who are heading to Charlotte will be Haire and Nicolee Ambrose, Maryland’s Republican national committeewoman.
Ambrose said she was prepared to follow health mandates such as taking regular COVID-19 tests, but said she was frustrated that Cooper, the governor, “refused to agree with absolutely anything” in the party’s original convention plans.
Like Trump, Ambrose refers to the virus as “the Chinese virus.”
Ambrose said it “is absolutely a creation of the Chinese Communist Party. The question is, was it an accidental or intentional release?”
The new virus first appeared in China. Scientists studying the virus have said humans did not create it and it arose naturally in bats. They are working to determine when it may have jumped from animals to humans.
While national polls show Biden leading Trump, Ambrose said: “The poll numbers I care about are the ones in September and October. Once Labor Day comes, it is a full-contact sport and there is a lot more focus."
National Democrats are planning an almost entirely virtual convention from Milwaukee a few days before Republicans are expected to hold their convention.
“We will meet (online) every morning and have key speakers who will let us know what’s going on,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a leader of the Maryland delegation. “We tried to duplicate as much as possible the convention surroundings.”
Those in Milwaukee will meet from just 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily, according to a preliminary schedule for the event released Wednesday. Everyone attending must wear a mask, consent to daily testing for COVID-19, fill out questionnaires and maintain a physical distance from others. Delegates will cast ballots remotely, beginning next week.
Cardin, Maryland’s senior senator, agreed with Ambrose that the election is “far from resolved.” The Democrat said there remains “a large segment that aren’t guaranteed voters, and motivation of who comes out to vote is critically important in this election.”