Much like last week’s Democratic National Convention that saw Joe Biden virtually accept his presidential nomination, this week’s Republican National Convention will be unprecedented, and mostly remote.
Republicans have resisted shifting entirely to a virtual event due to coronavirus concerns, as Democrats did. But their in-person events in Charlotte, N.C. are significantly smaller than initially planned.
Even as President Donald Trump held a surprise speech at the convention Monday ahead of the primetime portion of the event — and accused Democrats of “using COVID to steal the election” — most of Pennsylvania’s delegates were still at home, keeping up with the action remotely.
Many RNC delegates are already involved in local or state Republican politics in some capacity. Of the 88 who cast votes at the RNC, 54 of them are chosen in open elections — three from each congressional district. The others consist of at-large delegates elected by the state party, and official GOP leaders.
“Every other delegate that I know of in Pennsylvania has been involved in politics for a while, whether they write checks or go door to door, or do a blend of something else,” said Leslie Morgan, a Delaware County commercial real estate investor and delegate from the 5th Congressional District.
Unlike the Democratic convention, in which a portion of the delegates cast votes for Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in a show of support for progressive causes, Republican delegates from Pennsylvania and the rest of the country are eschewing specific platform negotiations, and voting one way: for President Donald Trump.
“I’ve always been a Republican, but I wasn’t really focused on making a difference until Donald Trump decided to run for president,” said Jim Worthington.
Worthington, 63, is somewhat of a quintessential RNC delegate. He owns a massive athletic club in Newtown, Bucks County, and though his entrée to political action came relatively late in life, he has lately spent a lot of time carving out a niche for himself.
Some of his recent initiatives have included lobbying state and local officials for a “right to try” bill allowing terminally ill patients access to experimental medical treatments — Trump signed it in 2018 — and getting stimulus money for health clubs. He also sits on a presidential council on sports, fitness and nutrition.
And like many of the delegates, Trump appeals to Worthington on a personal level. As a business owner, he can relate to Trump’s persona as a mover and shaker.
“I like to think that we have similar qualities,” Worthington said. “What he tries to do is what I try to do…you want to…press the envelope.”
A number of the RNC delegates brought up similar priorities: they tend to believe a strong economy and stock market are key, for instance, and say a “law and order” approach to government — which often includes strong support for police and opposition to nationwide protests critical of police — is preferable.
Gary Grisafi, 56, a musician, construction safety inspector and ward leader for his Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood, also said along with strong policing, strong borders and low taxes, he has a long list of other priorities.
“[I don’t like] sanctuary cities…the military, we’ve got to keep up, we’ve got to stay tough on China, and socialism — I think the Democratic party has gone too far left,” he said.
Grisifi acknowledges he’s in a minority in Philadelphia in supporting the president — but he doesn’t feel like an odd man out, either.
“You’re outnumbered, but that doesn’t mean there’s zero support,” he said. “There’s more people that like him, that support him than you think…they’re afraid to admit that they like the guy.”
Morgan, who is 59, is one of three women representing her congressional district as a delegate — something she said she’s thrilled about.
Early in her career she worked on Wall Street, and said she became familiar with Trump then.
“He just gets it done,” she said. “Sometimes his personality is very strong and sometimes people get offended by that. I do not.”
Morgan hasn’t exclusively supported Republicans. She phone banked for Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, and supported businessman Ross Perot in his independent and third-party presidential bids in the 1990s.
But, she said, she’s an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s general platform and ethos. She likes the idea of taking a “businesslike” approach to government, and likes strong borders and national pride.
“I am not ashamed to embrace America first,” she said, even though her Delaware County community — and the entirety of wealthy, Main Line Pennsylvania — has grown increasingly blue in recent years. Some of her best friends supported Bernie Sanders for president.
“I go back to respecting people’s opinions,” she said. “I think people should be able to vote who they want to. Even Kanye if he gets on the ballot.”
Which way will Pa. vote?