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RNC scales back Trump's Jacksonville convention, moves events outdoors amid coronavirus

Francesca Chambers and David Smiley, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- With coronavirus cases in Florida surging, the Republican National Committee announced Thursday morning that it would limit attendance at the Jacksonville convention next month.

President Trump will accept the GOP nomination on Aug. 27 in front of a smaller crowd than the 15,000 that VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena can hold, a letter to delegates indicated.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, in the letter to convention delegates, announced that only delegates would be allowed inside the convention venue for the first three days of the event while delegates plus a single guest and alternate delegates would be able to attend the president's speech.

"When we made these changes, we had hoped to be able to plan a traditional convention celebration to which we are all accustomed. However, adjustments must be made to comply with state and local health guidelines," McDaniel wrote.

The change means that roughly 7,500 party officials will be invited to attend the president's acceptance speech. That number does not include staff, media and guests of the Trump campaign.

McDaniel's letter did not address whether Trump's speech would be held indoors, as originally planned, or at an outdoor space, as discussed by the Trump campaign and RNC officials amid Florida's coronavirus outbreak.

"We continue to plan to host programming each day leading up to President Donald Trump's speech accepting the nomination on Thursday, Aug. 27. 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," McDaniel wrote.

The decision ends more than a week of murkiness about how Trump would celebrate his reelection nomination -- a choice complicated by the Republican National Committee's decision to move most of its convention events from Charlotte, N.C., to Jacksonville -- and Florida's spiking coronavirus outbreak.


At the time the RNC announced the move, the scale of infections in Florida was comparatively modest, with only about one in 20 tests coming back positive statewide. Jacksonville, in particular, also was experiencing a relatively mild coronavirus outbreak, one reason a newly formed Jacksonville Host Committee announced plans to focus events on Aug. 25, 26 and 27 around the 15,000-seat Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena downtown.

But Florida reported more than 10,000 positive cases Wednesday, with 420 reported in Jacksonville alone, where the city has implemented an order requiring masks indoors when social distancing can't be observed. The state, meanwhile, is limiting capacity to 50% at entertainment venues.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence had confirmed reports that the RNC might move its signature events outdoors.

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