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Jan. 24, 2021

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Clark County Republican has unconventional convention experience

Local delegate participated in GOP nomination process in North Carolina, with surprise finish at gathering in Washington, D.C.

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Joel Mattila, a delegate from Clark County, poses in front of the White House on the closing night of the Republican National Convention in Washington, D.C.
Joel Mattila, a delegate from Clark County, poses in front of the White House on the closing night of the Republican National Convention in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of Joel Mattila) Photo Gallery

A Clark County resident was one of the few people who attended the Republican National Convention last month, a usually arena-sized event that was scaled down to just a couple of hundred delegates this year due to COVID-19.

Joel Mattila, who’s active in the Clark County Republican Party, was selected through the party’s delegate nomination process to travel to the convention in Charlotte, N.C. He described the experience as “incredible,” if very different from national conventions in the past.

“Obviously it has been and continues to be a crazy, weird year, with everything happening,” Mattila said. “I was privileged and honored to be one of the 336 people in the room.”

Mattila went to the RNC in 2016 to cast the state of Washington’s sole and enthusiastic vote in support of Donald Trump,. He also attended the 2004 convention to support George W. Bush.

“The business of the convention was much the same. The scope, obviously, was very different,” Mattila said. “Both of those times it was huge basketball arenas filled with 25,000, 30,000 people. … This time, it was a conference room in a hotel.”

The spectacle of politics looks considerably different in 2020. In Florida, an outbreak of the virus effectively cancelled the high-profile elements of the convention that had been scheduled to take place in Jacksonville. Under the original plan, 2,550 delegates and more than a thousand alternates were supposed to attend the convention.

The Democratic National Convention, originally planned for Milwaukee, Wis., took place entirely online the week prior, with speakers and spectators attending via videoconference.

Mattila said he wasn’t at all worried about catching COVID-19 at the convention.

He said he was tested for the virus twice — once a week before the trip, and again upon arriving in Charlotte for the Aug. 24 kickoff. For the rest of the week, he was subject to a health screening and temperature check before entering the conference each day.

According to the RNC’s organizers, that was standard protocol for attendees. Four people tested positive for the virus upon arriving and were isolated.

Mattila said most people were diligent about wearing masks and social distancing, though photos and videos at the event — including some photos posted to Mattila’s Facebook page and reposted by the Clark County Republican Party — show people gathered together unmasked.

Mattila, who works as a residential real estate agent, was selected as his party precinct’s delegate back in February. From there, he advanced to the county convention, then to the state convention in June where he was chosen to serve on the Credentials Committee at the national convention.

“It’s quite competitive to become a national convention delegate,” Mattila said.

The event kicked off at the Charlotte Convention Center with speeches from Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and several other high-profile speakers. The next three days were filled with the business of the convention, Mattila said, including strategy meetings with party officials. The event concluded outside the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 27. Mattila said he hadn’t known going into the week that he’d get to visit the White House.

Holding a campaign event on the White House lawn is being flagged by some government ethics scholars and politicians as a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in most political activity on federal property. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee requested an investigation on Thursday.

Mattila said that finding out he’d been invited to the White House was among the most exciting moments of the week. He received the invitation via email.

“One of the highlights has to have been opening up that email — and I screenshotted it too, the invitation from the president to attend his acceptance speech on the White House lawn. That stood out,” Mattila said.

Mattila added that he’s fired up after the trip, a sentiment he said is shared by the other delegates even after a national convention that was more low-key compared to past versions.

“The look of the convention was quite different, (but) the fervor and the excitement of the delegates was the same or even more off the charts,” Mattila said.

“My hopes were pretty high that President Trump is going to be reelected in November. After sitting in those meetings and seeing what’s going on, my already-high hopes were buoyed beyond belief.”