Jacksonville 2020 Host Committee President Trent Morse said the Aug. 24-27 Republican National Convention in Jacksonville “is going to happen,” despite questions about its viability.
Morse addressed security concerns and offered insight into the convention in a speech July 22 to the Southside Business Men’s Club at the San Jose Country Club.
“There’s a question about security and whether or not the convention is going to happen. I can tell you right here, right now, the convention is going to happen,” he said. “The president is going to accept his nomination in Jacksonville on Thursday night.”
Morse spoke about the general enthusiasm for the RNC and the need to recruit volunteers and vendors.
He said the host committee expects 7,500 delegates, alternates and their guests to watch President Donald Trump make his acceptance speech Aug. 27.
Morse said about 2,500 people will hear speeches from the Trump family, First Lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, respectively, the first three nights of the RNC.
Outdoor facilities TIAA Bank Field and the adjacent Daily’s Place Amphitheater are “getting closer” to becoming the likely venues for RNC speeches, he said.
The host committee has contracts with 44 hotels in Northeast Florida that will accommodate “a little under 10,000” people for the convention, Morse said. That excludes rooms for law enforcement and outside vendors supporting the RNC.
Morse said the RNC host committee didn’t know in advance that Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams was going to tell reporters July 20 that there wasn’t enough time, money or officers to keep everyone safe during the convention.
“Regardless of what happened on Monday, it’s unfortunate that that was said without us being aware of it,” Morse said. “Again, we’re going to get there.”
Morse said the Republican National Committee staff includes former Secret Service agents with experience planning four presidential nominating conventions. They are helping with security plans.
According to Morse, the Republican National Committee has offered the resources needed to plan the security of the convention.
“The sheriff wants to make sure the city is secure,” Morse said. “That just doesn’t mean inside what we call the perimeter where the (convention) events will take place. But he wants to make sure soft targets are taken care of, which is City Hall and other venues outside what we think of as the convention space.”
With 33 days before the convention, the city has not appropriated an expected $33 million federal grant to fund security or signed a service contract with the national GOP or host committee.
Both are included in an emergency omnibus bill going before City Council on July 28.
Morse framed the lack of a signed agreement with the city of Jacksonville as an advantage for local vendors who want to benefit from the convention.
“We’re really negotiating as we go, we’re building the plane as we fly,” Morse said. “So what we’ve been able to do for Jacksonville is really have a seat, allowing us to use a lot of local vendors.”
Morse was joined July 22 by Duval GOP Chair Dean Black.
Black said the logistical changes heightened Williams’s personnel needs. The attendance has decreased but will be spread across multiple venues because of COVID-19.
The Duval GOP chair asked the club members to “encourage people to remain calm” and support the host committee.
“There’s going to be a certain amount of chaos. There should be a certain amount of drama. We’re business people. We’re doing things ourselves on short notice. Great enterprises, right? And we know, it’s a little sloppy at this stage and that’s OK. That is normal,” Black said.
“That’s different from a typical convention but in case you haven’t figured it out yet, this will be a convention like none other,” Black said.