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Virus brings new rules for the Republican National Convention

Supporters of President Donald Trump attend a campaign

Supporters of President Donald Trump attend a campaign rally at The Defense Contractor Complex on August 18, 2020 in Yuma, Arizona.  Credit: Getty Images/Sandy Huffaker

ALBANY — The Republican National Convention this week will be like no GOP convention held before, with presumptive nominee Donald Trump seeking nomination to a second term during a pandemic that has hurt his poll numbers and changed the rules of the convention.

Trump will have no raucous rally at the convention, which traditionally give nominees of both parties a bump in the polls, because of new rules to contend with the COVID-19 virus.

“I don’t see how it’s possible,” said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). He is one of Long Island’s delegates that will participate in the convention remotely because of limits on attendance forced by the virus.

King has attended seven GOP conventions. He remembers the bumps in the polls that President Gerald Ford won in the 1976 convention in his unifying speech after a strong challenge from former Gov. Ronald Reagan of California; and the comeback boost for Vice President George H.W. Bush from his “thousand points of light” acceptance speech in 1988.

“I hope I’m wrong, but I think it’s going to be a real loss,” King said of the impact of virus rules on the convention. “It’s going to be more like a press conference, especially for someone like Trump. They feed off the crowd. You can see a candidate feed off the adrenalin. As sophisticated as we are, and as cynical as we are, there is nothing like human interaction … the convention is like a metaphor for the lack of interaction we are having right now.”

The new rules for the Charlotte, N.C., convention include limiting delegates to six from each state and territory for a total of 336 delegates, rather than the traditional dozens of delegates and guests crowded under each state’s banners in past conventions. This year’s convention’s key moments will be aired by the television networks and C-SPAN as well as livestreamed by the party, including the Aug. 24 nomination of Trump.

The rules also include “robust training” of delegates in safety precautions against the virus, testing of all delegates before they arrive in Charlotte, daily symptom tracking and temperature checks of all delegates, and enforced social distancing measures and masks.

Although only six delegates statewide will attend the convention, Long Island has 12 delegates and 12 alternates divided evenly among the first through fourth congressional districts. Long Island will also have four at-large delegates and three at-large alternates, filling slots provided by the party as rewards for service by the state’s Republican Committee. Among them is Bruce Blakeman, the Hempstead town councilman who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2014.

Among the three at-large delegates from Long Island who will be attending the convention are Ann Schockett of Woodmere, president of the National Federation of Republican Women as well as a businesswoman and political consultant; and Thomas Alfano, a lawyer and former state assemblyman from North Valley Stream.

New York’s other at-large delegates include Jared Kushner of Manhattan, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, and Ed Cox of West Hampton, the former chairman of the state Republican Committee. In all, New York will have 81 delegates and 81 alternate delegates who can fill in for a delegate.

All the delegates will vote, either in Charlotte or remotely.

Republican leaders tried to downplay the importance of the convention as a critical turning point for Trump.

“I’m not sure the concept of a convention is realistic anymore, with the segmentation of the media,” said state Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy. He said he doubts anyone other than political junkies and stalwarts will watch most of either convention, compared to decades ago when political conventions were carried nightly by all three major TV networks.

“This strikes me more as a kickoff to the fall campaign than a culmination of a nomination,” Langworthy said. “It’s challenging for both parties.”

A June poll by Siena College and The New York Times found Biden had a 50-36% lead nationwide, but Trump had the support of 90% of Republicans.

“The party is really solidly behind him,” said a Republican leader and veteran of many GOP conventions who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is not as important for him as it is for the challenger … this is a huge opportunity for the challenger.”

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