JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The convention to nominate President Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for president is going to happen in Jacksonville next month, but be much smaller than originally planned and take place at both inside and outside venues.
Rather than the 15,000 people originally scheduled to attend the event in Jacksonville next month, Republican National Convention chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a letter to RNC members that only the roughly 2,500 regular delegates to the convention would be permitted to attend the opening three nights of the convention. Delegates, their guests and alternate delegates would be permitted to attend the final night, Aug. 27, when President Donald Trump is set to deliver his acceptance speech.
According to the estimated attendance on that Thursday night -- likely inside TIAA Bank Field -- will be up to 7,000 people.
The move comes after the GOP was forced to move most of the convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, after local officials ruled out a full-capacity crowd amid the pandemic. In recent weeks, Florida has seen significant increases in confirmed cases, with Jacksonville instituting a face-covering mandate and the state limiting gatherings to 50% of a venue’s capacity.
“When we made these changes, we had hoped to be able to plan a traditional convention celebration to which we are all accustomed,” McDaniel said. “However, adjustments must be made to comply with state and local health guidelines.”
Convention planners also acknowledged that some convention events will take place outdoors. McDaniel said the marquee evening program, including Trump’s speech, was expected to take place outdoors to accommodate the largest crowd possible.
“We continue to plan to host programming each day leading up to President Donald Trump’s speech accepting the nomination,” spokesman Erin Isaac said. “We expect there to be evening programming each night, along with some daytime events and festivities. We plan to utilize a number of indoor and outdoor venues in this multi-block radius of Jacksonville, including the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, TIAA Bank Field, Daily’s Place Amphitheater, 121 Financial Ballpark, and several others.”
The chairman of the Republican Party of Jacksonville, Dean Black, doesn’t believe these changes mean the convention is being scaled down.
“Nobody has actually said they are scaling back the convention, necessarily. It’s changing form. It’s changing shape. It’s changing and modifying its venue. And it won’t,” Black said. “We’ve been saying all along Republicans are going to make adjustments and they’re going to make decisions based on information as it develops.”
Black also noted that there will be lots of people and events going out beyond the business of the convention.
“It’s not just a single meeting like people think,” Black said. “It has many, many meetings scattered over many, many days. It is Republican Disneyland.”
The RNC said it plans to implement a variety of health protocols for everyone attending its events. Their plan includes on-site temperature checks, available PPE, aggressive sanitizing protocols and available COVID-19 testing.
“We can gather and put on a top-notch event that celebrates the incredible accomplishments of President Trump’s administration and his re-nomination for a second term — while also doing so in a safe and responsible manner,” McDaniel wrote.
Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief of staff, Jordan Elsbury, said the city anticipated this change would happen if it was needed.
“From the beginning of this process, we have said we would watch and monitor the health data related to COVID-19 and make smart decisions based on that information as the event got closer. That’s exactly what’s happening here and what we will continue to do,” Elsbury said in a statement.
News4Jax political analyst and deal of Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute, Rick Mullaney, said the change it is the party acknowledging reality.
“It reflects the reality of the surge in Jacksonville,” Delaney said. “There’s just no doubt about it, from the safety perspective and political perspective, some changes have to be made. It’s not surprising.”
In recent days, six Republican U.S. senators have announced they either will not or might not attend the convention. Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t commit to coming to Jacksonville when asked earlier this week.
McConnell said his “current intention” is to go but he would assess closer to the date.
Jacksonville City Council President Tommy Hazouri, who has had many questions about the cost and safety of the convention, did get some answers Wednesday. He says there are still many issues. Hazouri says scaling back is a start.
“Whatever they do, it’s going to directly impact the citizens of Jacksonville and those that will be coming here. But more importantly, I have to look after public safety and welfare and the health of this community,” Hazouri said.