MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — President Donald Trump’s campaign has moved a rally that was set for Friday from Rochester to the southern Minnesota town of Dodge Center in an attempt to avoid a crowd limit over 250 people under the state’s coronavirus safety guidelines.
But the mayor of Rochester said the situation was still in flux as of Thursday afternoon, and that it was possible that the president’s schedule could change yet again.
The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, meanwhile, announced Thursday that the former vice president will travel to St. Paul on Friday, setting up dueling visits that highlight Minnesota’s status as a battleground state. Both Trump and Biden also campaigned in Minnesota on the same day last month, when Trump held a rally in Bemidji and Biden visited the Duluth area.
The Biden campaign said Thursday that the former vice president will attend a drive-in event in St. Paul, tentatively set for 3:45 p.m., but did not announce the location. The campaign will livestream it on its website.
The Trump campaign announced Wednesday that the president would lead a rally at the city-owned Rochester airport Friday evening. The campaign had been in discussions earlier in the week about holding it in Mankato. But the campaign on Thursday moved it to a private company, McNeilus Steel, in Dodge Center, about 25 miles (40.23 kilometers) west of Rochester, without making an official announcement.
The Trump campaign and the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. The Minnesota Department of Health has linked 28 coronavirus cases to other recent Trump campaign events in the state.
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton told the AP that the airport wanted the campaign to “manage the size and scale of the event to stay within the state’s COVID guidelines.” which include a cap of 250 people and social distancing requirements. City officials got a call Thursday morning from the campaign, saying that had secured another venue.
The campaign had wired the site rental fee to the airport — the mayor wasn’t sure of the amount — and had set up scaffolding at the airport when the campaign told local officials it was changing venues, she said. But she got word later that the campaign’s plans might change again, and that the campaign might come to Rochester after all. She said she wasn’t sure what that event would look like because the scaffolding had already been taken down.
“We’re awaiting further information from the campaign,” Norton said.
Glenn Sylvester, the Dodge Center steel company’s chief operating officer, told Minnesota Public Radio that he expected several thousand people to attend the event at his company. In an email to McNeilus staff, Sylvester wrote they that expected 25,000 people to attend and he encouraged employees to participate.
Asked about such a large crowd for a Trump rally, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said it was the first she’d heard about it. She noted that the presidential campaigns have been made aware of the state’s guidelines, including crowd limits, but said enforcing them beforehand can prove difficult..
“We just have to keep reinforcing to people what the expectations are,” she said at a briefing for reporters.