JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As Florida deals with a surge of new coronavirus cases, President Trump and GOP officials appear to be nearing a decision to possibly move the celebratory parts of the Republican National Convention next month in Jacksonville from the planned indoor area to nearby outdoor venues.
Two Trump re-election campaign officials told Fox News on Tuesday that the president was briefed at the White House Monday night about the possibility of moving the convention outdoors.
While they stress that a final decision has not been made, the two officials said the decision would need to be made soon and that Trump would be the ultimate decider. One described the move as “a very real possibility.”
Separately, a Republican involved in planning for the August convention told Fox News that “we are planning for multiple scenarios and various health precautions.”
Fox News reported last Thursday that GOP officials had already checked out multiple outdoor venues in the immediate vicinity of the VyStar Arena – where the convention is currently slated to be held – and are in discussions about potential options for all of them, including football and baseball stadiums. The Republican convention is scheduled to kick off on Aug. 24.
VyStar Veteran's Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. will host thousands at this year's Republican National Convention (Robert Sherman, Fox News). (FOX)
Locations that Republican officials have scouted last week include the 121 Financial Ballpark, which hosts minor league baseball games and can hold around 11,000 people, and the TIAA Bank Field, a 65,000-seat stadium that’s home to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Both venues are a short walk from the VyStar arena, which seats around 15,000 people.
The developments are the latest involving a convention that’s seen plenty of drama over the past couple of months due to health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) last month chose Jacksonville to host major portions of the convention, after largely abandoning the city of Charlotte, N.C., over disagreements on coronavirus-related crowd restrictions.
The president and Republican officials were angered after Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, said that because of the pandemic he wasn’t prepared to guarantee the RNC a full-fledged convention with an arena packed full of party officials, delegates and activists as desired by Trump. Some business aspects of the convention, however, will still be held in Charlotte.
North Carolina is among the majority of states that have seen major spikes in new coronavirus cases in the last month and a half.
Jacksonville was likely attractive to GOP officials because it was the only city under consideration as a backup to Charlotte that has a Republican mayor in a state with a governor from the same party.
But new cases of the coronavirus have surged dramatically in Florida in recent weeks, raising fresh concerns regarding the convention. The city recently enacted a mandatory mask requirement for public and indoor locations.
Republicans involved in convention planning noted there would likely be less concern among attendees over the risk of coronavirus transmission at an outdoor event rather than at an indoor venue. But a growing list of Republican senators and representatives have said they won’t attend the Jacksonville convention over health concerns – with many other GOP lawmakers taking a wait and see approach.
The large crowds predicted last month at an indoor arena in Tulsa, Okla., for a Trump campaign rally – the president’s first since the pandemic swept the nation in March – never materialized. The 19,000-seat arena was not even half full.
The president’s second campaign rally – scheduled for this past weekend in New Hampshire – was to be held outside on an airport tarmac before being postponed. The campaign said they delayed the event due to forecasted severe storms that never materialized in Portsmouth, where the rally was supposed to have been held.
Holding an outdoor convention in Florida in the summertime could trigger other issues. The state is extremely hot in the summer – with temperatures in the 90s and often topping 100 degrees. Thunderstorms are also a constant threat, and August marks the traditional start of hurricane season.
The Democratic National Convention – which was pushed back a month and is scheduled to start on Aug. 17 – is still being held in Milwaukee.
But the Democratic National Committee announced last month that their confab will be conducted mostly online.
Fox News’ Mark Meredith contributed to this report.