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State GOP leaders choose Cherokee for 2014 convention

fr gop harrahsCome next June, the number of visitors to Western North Carolina will jump by at least 1,500 Republicans.


The North Carolina Republican Party is hosting its annual convention at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort on the Qualla Boundary the first weekend in June. State GOP leaders expect about 1,500 attendees.

“It is going to give the area lot of exposure to people across the state,” said David Sawyer, chairman of 11th Congressional District GOP. “It will be a big boom for the economy.”

Republican leaders focused on the possible economic impact the convention could have on the area.

“I think it will be fantastic for Haywood County, Swain County, Jackson County,” said Ralph Slaughter, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party. “It will expose Western North Carolina, and maybe, we can even convince people to vacation here.”

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Sawyer said he and other Western North Carolina Republican leaders are gathering information to let convention-goers know about the region’s offerings.

District Republicans had lobbied for the party to host it main event in Cherokee ever since the Harrah’s expansion.

“We kept telling them there is life past Asheville,” Slaughter said. “My goal was always to get people and the state to realize that we in Western North Carolina do exist.”

Now that the casino has more hotel rooms and meeting spaces — as well as a 3,000-seat event center that will serve as the main floor for the convention — it is one of a select group of places that can accommodate such a large event. The casino is also a big economic engine and job creator in Western North Carolina, making it attractive to a party that has a jobs-heavy platform.

 “Tourism is a top industry in North Carolina, and Cherokee is one of our state’s largest tourist attractions,” said Claude Pope, chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, in a news release “Harrah’s is a model for economic development by providing over 5,000 jobs for the community without any state incentives. Republicans around the state are excited to visit Cherokee in 2014.”

Holding the convention in Cherokee will allow state Republicans to rally their supporters in the region heading into the 2014 elections for N.C. General Assembly by making them feel heard.

“I think it’s a smart move by the Republicans. I think the west tends to feel ignored,” said Chris Cooper, head of the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University. “If the Republican Party can brand itself as the party of the west, it is obviously a good thing.”

The convention may also see fewer protesters this far west and in a predominantly Republican district, an hour away from ultra-liberal Asheville.

During the next eight months, regional Republican Party leaders will work to ready Cherokee for the influx of politicians, delegates and active party members while state party leaders will focus on the schedule of events and lining up notable speakers.

“We are going to be more of the feet on the ground, boots on the ground here locally,” Sawyer said of regional GOP leaders.

Previous speakers at N.C. Republican conventions have included Karl Rove, a senior advisor to former President George W. Bush; Donald Trump, a millionaire businessman and vocal Republican supporter; and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

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