US President Donald Trump said the Republican Party would seek to pull its August nominating convention out of North Carolina after Democratic Governor Roy Cooper refused to heed a GOP demand that he pre-authorise a gathering of at least 19,000 people.
"Governor Cooper is still in Shelter-In-Place Mode, and not allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised," Mr Trump tweeted. "We are now forced to seek another State to host the 2020 Republican National Convention."
Republican Party chair Ronna McDaniel had said earlier in the day that the party would begin exploring options outside of North Carolina.
"We have an obligation to our delegates and nominee to begin visiting the multiple cities and states who have reached out in recent days about hosting an historic event to show that America is open for business," she said.
The announcement, nearly two years after Republicans began planning the event in Charlotte, marks the latest political confrontation over how to handle the pandemic.
North Carolina Democrats say any convention has to depend on health conditions in the state, where coronavirus-related hospitalisations reached a peak in late May.
"As much as we want the conditions surrounding Covid-19 to be favourable enough for you to hold the Convention you describe in late August, it is very unlikely," Mr Cooper wrote in a letter to Republican leaders. "Neither public health officials nor I will risk the health and safety of North Carolinians by providing the guarantee you seek."
Mr Cooper said the GOP is demanding a packed arena for the convention, as well as full restaurants, hotels and bars. Given the uncertain situation, he wrote, a smaller event with social distancing and face coverings "is a necessity".
The growing likelihood that at least part of the Republican National Convention, scheduled for August 24-27, will leave a Democratic-led state underscores the turmoil the pandemic has brought to the presidential contest.
With about 150 days until the election, neither major candidate has been able to resume normal campaigning, with offices shut and staff working remotely.
The Democratic convention is scheduled for the previous week in Milwaukee, and it is likely that the two events will showcase sharply contrasting approaches to the viral threat.
While Mr Trump pushes for a massive rally and declines to wear a mask in public, Democrat Joe Biden has embraced wearing a facial covering and has emphasised following public health advice.
For their convention, Democratic leaders have discussed allowing remote voting to cut crowd sizes and holding smaller satellite events in swing states to reduce travel.
Because of contractual obligations with Charlotte, Republicans still expect to conduct much of the convention's official business in North Carolina, including votes on Mr Trump's formal nomination.
But the event's televised centrepiece - including Mr Trump's speech to the large crowd he has insisted on - is now more likely to take place elsewhere.
North Carolina, which has voted Republican in every presidential election but one since 1980, is expected to be heavily contested this year.
Senator Thom Tillis, who is fighting to retain his seat, said he still expects the two sides to come to an agreement.
If the GOP convention did leave North Carolina, he added, the exit would have more of an economic impact on the state than a political one. "The politics of conventions never really work out the way a lot of people think," Mr Tillis said.
Republicans are exploring the possibility of moving the convention to multiple cities, according to two GOP officials, including Jacksonville and Orlando in Florida; Las Vegas; and Nashville, Tennessee. (© Washington Post)