GOP outlines plans for scaled-back Jacksonville convention

(The Center Square) — Only 2,500 delegates will be allowed inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena during the first three days of the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville next month, with half of capacity, 7,500, permitted to attend President Donald Trump’s acceptance speech on the last night.

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel outlined plans for a scaled-down convention Thursday in a letter to delegates, with some outdoor events planned for Daily’s Place Amphitheater, TIAA Bank Field and 121 Financial Ballpark.

RNC moved the “performative aspects” of the convention to Jacksonville from Charlotte, N.C., in June after Trump said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper “forced” him to cancel in Charlotte by requesting a scaled-down convention because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some events still are planned for Charlotte, including Trump’s renomination. His Jacksonville speech, while scheduled for VyStar, could be moved outdoors to accommodate larger crowds.

Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday the convention is “a work in progress,” adding “there is consideration being given to having the convention at an outdoor setting. We’ll put the health of everyone participating first.”

Scheduling outdoor events in Florida in August is best done with a contingency plan, considering the state’s sauna-hot humidity and daily thunderstorms.

With Florida COVID-19 cases in a sustained surge since mid-June, Trump said last week he was “flexible” in demanding Jacksonville host the “full-capacity event” he sought when leaving Charlotte.

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

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a former Florida GOP chairman, has imposed a mandatory face mask order, and a statewide executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis restricts indoor gatherings to 50 percent capacity.

Unless trends are reversed, these restrictions, and others, could be in place in Jacksonville during the Aug. 24-27 convention, which Curry and DeSantis lobbied to host because it was projected to draw up to 50,000 people and generate $100 million for local businesses.

According to the Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 dashboard, 13,837 positive tests were reported Thursday, boosting Florida cases since March to 315,775, with 4,782 deaths and 19,825 hospitalizations, about 1,300 more than were reported Tuesday.

DOH on Thursday also documented 156 new deaths, the most confirmed in Florida within a 24-hour period. Variations in how deaths are reported, however, does not mean all of them occurred on the same day.

McDaniel said events inside VyStar “will be limited to regular delegates only” for the first three days, with delegates allowed to invite one guest and alternate delegates to Trump’s speech the final night, if it is not staged outdoors.

On-site temperature checks and face coverings will be required for indoor events, and testing will be available, she said.

“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.

At least eight Republican U.S. senators — Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Pat Roberts of Kansas and John Thune of South Dakota — have declined attending the event.

Florida’s senior U.S. senator, Marco Rubio, had not confirmed he would attend, as of Thursday afternoon. Florida U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Francis Rooney have announced they are staying home.

John Haughey is a contributor to The Center Square

John Haughey is a contributor to The Center Square