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Jacksonville emerges as most likely site for GOP convention

While the search for new venues goes on, the Florida city could be the site for President Donald Trump's acceptance speech.
Jacksonville, Florida, USA downtown city skyline
Jacksonville, Fla.Sean Pavone / Getty Images/iStockphoto

WASHINGTON — As the Republicans scout new cities for the public-facing portion of their August convention, Jacksonville, Florida, is emerging as the most likely location for President Donald Trump’s official acceptance speech, according to four Republicans familiar with the discussions.

No final decision has been made and several other states are still being considered after the president uprooted the spectacle portion of the event from Charlotte, North Carolina, last week following a back-and-forth with the Democratic governor over health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Roy Cooper said he could not, in good faith, guarantee thousands would be able to gather together in a large arena, so the Republican National Committee said it was “forced” to evaluate other cities for the president’s speech. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said last week that he would be open to having the convention in his state.

Site surveys are ongoing and convention officials are touring Phoenix, Savannah, Georgia, Dallas — as well as Jacksonville — this week. The party already surveyed Orlando, Florida, Nashville, Tennessee, and New Orleans in recent days.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who has been a part of the team traveling to different venues for the celebration portion of the convention, expects the decision to be made within the next week.

“The president loves North Carolina and we really wanted to have it in North Carolina because he loves the people of North Carolina, and you have this Democrat governor, who really I think has played politics and not given us guidelines, to prevent us from holding the celebration. But everybody's coming to the table,” she said in an interview with FOX on Tuesday.

It’s still the plan to hold all convention business in Charlotte, given contractual obligations between the RNC and the city, per an official involved in the planning.

The Republicans also considered holding multiple rallies in different states to showcase major speeches, culminating with the president’s address, in part because it would allow Trump to say he had the largest in-person convention audience ever.

But that option is looking less likely because of cost, according to people familiar with the decision-making.

Moving even part of a convention 75 days out from a major political conference is highly unusual. Holding the celebratory portion in northern Florida, however, could allow some delegates and attendees to drive six hours from Charlotte to Jacksonville in order to participate in both portions.

The concluding evening is expected to be a “glorified rally,” per one Republican, so the president can accept his renomination with all the fanfare he expected before the health crisis.