The Republican National Committee announced Thursday that President Trump’s renomination speech and other convention festivities will move to Jacksonville, Florida, from Charlotte, North Carolina, after the original site refused to go along with Trump’s demands for a crowded large-scale event amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Washington Post first reported Tuesday night that the RNC has tentatively decided on Jacksonville for the event. Thursday’s official announcement caps off an extraordinary search for a last-minute convention site after Trump tweeted on Memorial Day that he wanted to move the convention to a city that would allow him to speak in a fully filled arena. The RNC also indicated it did not want to require masks for Trump’s speech.

Some lower-profile events will remain in Charlotte because of signed contracts requiring some activities there. The RNC voted Wednesday night to radically pare down the official business of the convention, clearing the way to move the parties and ceremonial aspects of the convention to another place.

The change means that the Republican Party will have roughly 70 days to plan a series of events that typically take two years to work through. Political conventions, once a secretive process for elites to select their party’s nominee, are now largely for show. But they do serve purposes: kicking off the final leg of the presidential races, offering a high-profile opportunity for the candidates to sell a vision for the country, and delivering a platform for the next generation of political stars in each party.

“We are thrilled to celebrate this momentous occasion in the great city of Jacksonville,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “Not only does Florida hold a special place in President Trump’s heart as his home state, but it is crucial in the path for victory in 2020. We look forward to bringing this great celebration and economic boon to the Sunshine State in just a few short months.”

The Democrats also disrupted their convention due to the threat of the coronavirus – moving their event from July to August to provide more time for the outbreak to fade. The party expects to hold, at most, a pared back convention in Milwaukee that is at last partially virtual. Other options include satellite events in key states.

Republicans went in the opposite direction, casting about for a city that would disregard current health guidance and permit thousands of people from all over the country to gather in one place. Republican officials considered Dallas; Savannah, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; and Phoenix – but were drawn to Jacksonville largely because the city’s political leadership aligns with Trump.

It was not clear, pending decisions on how the convention would be funded, whether city officials would need to vote on the event’s relocation.

Local and state leaders in Florida applauded the decision Thursday, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, the former Florida Republican chairman, calling it a “huge win” for the city. His comment came in the statement put out by the RNC.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and a Trump ally, said in the RNC statement Thursday that Jacksonville will “showcase Florida’s energy, facilities, entrepreneurship and commitment to bring together the delegates of the Republican Party at a historic time in our nation’s history.”

According to a state filing, the Host Committee in Jacksonville will be led by Visit Jacksonville President Michael Corrigan, Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., and Daniel Davis, the president and CEO of the JAX Chamber.

Trump is set to give his speech on Aug. 27 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, a venue in downtown Jacksonville that can accommodate roughly 15,000 people. (It is smaller than the 20,000-person capacity Spectrum Center in Charlotte where Trump was supposed to deliver the speech.)

The timing of the speech raised concerns, because it will be given on the 60th anniversary of Jacksonville’s Ax Handle Saturday, when a mob of about 200 whites attacked black demonstrators who had been trying to desegregate lunch counters in the city via a series of peaceful sit-ins. After about two weeks of protesting, a group of white men, armed with ax handles and baseball bats, beat the protesters.

 

The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.

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