MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) – A surge in coronavirus cases in the state is prompting the Republican National Committee to plan a scaled-back national convention in Jacksonville, next month.
The new plans will mean smaller crowds, fewer speeches and the use of indoor and outdoor venues in an attempt to salvage an in-person convention in the state of Florida, which has become one of the country’s leading coronavirus hotspots. Attendance will be limited to the 2,500 regular RNC delegates for the first three days of the convention, with delegates allowed to bring one guest and alternate delegates also allowed to attend, capping total attendance at about 7,000 people.
RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel sent a letter to convention delegates Thursday morning informing them of the changes, telling them the party fully intends to conduct a convention celebration, but will do so by making adjustments that comply with local health guidelines.
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“I want to make clear that we still intend to host a fantastic convention celebration in Jacksonville. 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.
The plans to scale back the convention cap off nearly two months of harried efforts by Republican officials to deliver an in-person convention as Trump has demanded while also dealing with health concerns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
The RNC is still planning on a four-day event in Jacksonville but will restrict access to the activities on the first three days to regular delegates only. The final night — when President Donald Trump accepts the nomination — will be open to delegates, their guests and alternate delegates. That will mean a much smaller crowd than what is usually expected from a nominating speech under traditional circumstances.
In her letter, McDaniel does not get into specifics as to what type of programming will take place on the first three days of the convention but promises that each day will feature evening programming along with events and festivities during the day. Convention organizers are also planning to offer hand sanitizer, masks and personal protective equipment, employ aggressive sanitizing protocols, and make Covid-19 testing “available.” In the past, organizers had said that every single person who enters the convention perimeter would be given a Covid-19 test.
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RNC officials decided in June to move the convention — aside from pro-forma voting — away from Charlotte, North Carolina, after the state’s Democratic governor insisted on safety protocols including social distancing and mask-wearing, which Trump was unwilling to accept at the time.
Within weeks of abandoning Charlotte, RNC officials landed on Jacksonville as the site for the convention, hoping the pro-Trump region and the state’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis would make it easier to hold a full-scale, in-person convention as Trump has demanded.
A surge of coronavirus cases in Florida in recent weeks have thrown a wrench in those plans, with RNC officials initially considering outdoor venues as a safer alternative to host the main events of the convention before ultimately deciding this week on a scaled-back convention.
A Jacksonville city official involved in the planning told CNN that TIAA Bank Field, where the Jaguars play, is connected to Daily’s Place Amphitheater. They were told in a planning meeting late Wednesday that they plan to use the amphitheater, in addition to a very large outdoor attached space, which is now the tented Jaguar practice field.
“The amphitheater is nice because it’s covered and you can use the stadium’s lounges during concerts,” the official said.
“They are looking for as many big tents as possible because it can rain every day,” the official said. “All bets are off if there’s a hurricane.”
Vice President Mike Pence hinted at the changes to come during a call with reporters on Wednesday.
“I can tell you it’s, it is a work in progress. The President indicated that we’ll, we’ll be flexible, we’ll, we will continue to consult with Mayor (Lenny) Curry and other local officials and Governor DeSantis as we’ve moved forward,” Pence said. “But there’s consideration being given to having the convention in an outdoor setting, and also putting the kind of measures in place that put the health of all of those that are participating, our delegates, visitors, and anyone else is present, we’ll put the health of everyone participating first.”
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