Trump Will Give Republican Convention Speech in Jacksonville

WASHINGTON — It’s official: President Trump will deliver his Aug. 27 convention speech in Jacksonville, Fla., inside an arena that holds 15,000 people, after his demands for an event without social distancing rules led to a rift with Democratic leaders in North Carolina, where the Republican convention was originally planned.

Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, confirmed on Thursday that the speech would take place at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, a diverse city where the mayor and the governor are both Republican allies of Mr. Trump’s. An R.N.C. official would not say what, if any, coronavirus safety precautions would be put in place.

“Not only does Florida hold a special place in President Trump’s heart as his home state, but it is crucial in the path to victory in 2020,” Ms. McDaniel said in a statement. “We look forward to bringing this great celebration and economic boon to the Sunshine State in just a few short months.”

The event for Mr. Trump in Jacksonville, not in Charlotte, N.C., as planned, coincides with one of the darkest days in the city’s history. The president will address his supporters on the 60th anniversary of “Ax Handle Saturday,” when a white mob organized by the Ku Klux Klan attacked mostly black civil rights protesters sitting at the city’s whites-only lunch counters. The attackers hid ax handles in the brush at Hemming Park, said Alan Bliss, the executive director of the Jacksonville Historical Society.

The city’s white mayor at the time, Haydon Burns, suppressed news about the beatings, Dr. Bliss said, and it was not until 2001 that the day was commemorated with a marker, paid for by the historical society, at the park. The current mayor, Lenny Curry, a Republican, removed a bronze Confederate soldier statue from the same park this week.

It was not clear that the historical resonance of the date for the city, which is about 30 percent African-American, was known to Republican officials before its selection.

The announcement of the Jacksonville speech capped a furious scramble set off after Mr. Trump and Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, reached a stalemate over how to pull off the convention as originally planned in Charlotte. Mr. Cooper insisted on social distancing measures and masks inside to protect attendees from the spreading of the coronavirus. Mr. Trump rejected those measures out of hand, insisting on a packed indoor arena with the look and feel of a country that had returned to business as usual despite the continuing health crisis.

Jacksonville, roughly a six-hour drive from Charlotte, was seen as the top contender as Republican officials considered a range of last-minute replacements. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, is leading Mr. Trump in Florida by about three percentage points, according to polls. And Mr. Trump, who changed his residence from New York to Florida last year, is uniquely focused on winning his adopted home state, which he won by a slim margin four years ago.

One of the holdups on any official announcement earlier this week was a question about whether Jacksonville had enough hotel rooms to accommodate the gathering. Some of the hotel rooms that will be used for the swarm of delegates, party officials, national news teams and other attendees will be as far as 20 miles from the venue, according to people involved in the planning.

On Thursday, Republican officials were careful not to refer to the events that will take place in Jacksonville as a convention. Instead, they referred to it as the city chosen “to celebrate the renomination of President Donald J. Trump.” The official business of the convention, they said, would still be held in Charlotte.

Ms. McDaniel also blamed Mr. Cooper for the change of plans, saying that “the current North Carolina Covid-19 restrictions would not allow for the celebration to occur in Charlotte, and Governor Cooper would not work with the R.N.C. to offer guidelines.”

In a statement, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who had campaigned for the convention to be moved to his state, said that “Jacksonville is a great city that 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.”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York, and Patricia Mazzei from Miami.

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