ROCHESTER, Minn. — Plans for a Friday, Oct. 30, campaign rally for President Donald Trump appeared to be up in the air Thursday.
Now we know that Trump's destination is the Rochester International Airport.
The rally appeared on radar screens Wednesday morning, Oct. 28, when the Trump campaign announced the president would hold a late-afternoon rally at the Rochester International Airport. City officials, concerned about the potential size of the rally and its adherence to state guidelines for crowd sizes, were working out details for the rally Thursday morning when they were told of the change.
Air Force One would still land in Rochester, but the rally would take place in Dodge Center, Minn., about 20 miles west of Rochester.
In the meantime, McNeilus Steel in Dodge Center sent a letter to its employees saying the company would host the president Friday afternoon and 25,000 people were expected.
By mid-afternoon Thursday, things changed again, and the rally was taken out of Dodge Center.
Minnesota Public Radio reporter Brian Bakst tweeted “President Trump's campaign rally is moving again. A plan to hold a massive Friday event at a Dodge Center foundry fell through. Campaign looking back toward original plan of Rochester airport but not nailed down."
When reached by email to ask if she had heard the rally was no longer being held in Dodge Center and if it would move back to the airport, Rochester Mayor Kim Norton wrote: "We’ve been told the same just a short time ago — awaiting word from legal about what they are thinking now."
Thursday evening, it was confirmed that the event will be at the Rochester airport Friday, as originally planned.
JJ Francis, owner of Sominn Machinery Sales in Dodge Center, said he was told by Secret Service personnel that the rally was being moved back to Rochester.
Francis said Secret Service was planning to use his building in the parking lot of McNeilus Steel as its headquarters and were running phone lines through the building. Suddenly, personnel were removing the lines and equipment out of the building. He said he was told they were heading back to Rochester, and that the rally there is now back on.
"The Secret Service took all of their stuff out of my building and said they were following the governor's mandate," he said. "We can't do it. It's going to be in Rochester for 200 people."
Francis said he called the governor's office to find out what happened but was told that the office didn't know anything about it.
He said he thought the whole thing was "ridiculous."
"If you want to go and stand outside and see the president and see whoever else is out there, it's an election," he said. "We want to hear what he's got to say."
Walz spokesman: “The governor’s office has not been in communication with the Trump campaign today.”
Walz spokesman: “The governor’s office has not been in communication with the Trump campaign today.”— Brian Bakst (@Stowydad) October 29, 2020
John Stiles, spokesman for the Minnesota Attorney General's office, said the state does not have the authority to cancel a public event, adding that the AG's office enforces Gov. Tim Walz's executive orders. Usually that means calling event organizers regarding events that might violate the executive order and asking for a COVID-19 preparedness plan and advising planners of statewide restrictions.
Stiles said the City of Rochester, airport officials, and representatives from the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, and from the Republican National Committee spoke Wednesday. GOP officials said they would provide a COVID-19 preparedness plan Thursday morning.
"We've not heard from them," Stiles said, adding that the office later learned from social media and an internal email from McNeilus Steel that the event had been moved. By 5 p.m., the office hadn't received a plan for the rally at the Rochester airport.
"It's been very one-sided communication," Stiles said. "We're getting our updates from Twitter like everyone else."
Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a statement saying the office has worked with organizers of more than 80 events across the state since the order was issued.
"COVID-19 is not a political statement, it is a deadly virus and the cause of a global pandemic," Ellison wrote in his statement. "As Attorney General charged with enforcing our executive orders, I take very seriously my responsibility to stop it from spreading and cannot exempt anyone, regardless of their political views, from complying with requirements to keep all Minnesotans safe from it."
If an event violates the guidelines set in the executive order, the attorney general's office would then open a civil investigation and could eventually file a complaint against the parties holding the event. That hasn't happened, and the office hasn't initiated any actions related to the planned rallies.
A Forum News Service photojournalist was in the area of McNeilus Steel shortly before 3:20 p.m. Thursday documenting workers putting up banners and decorating bleachers with patriotic bunting. About 10 minutes later, after hearing the rumor that the rally was no longer being held at the Dodge Center company, he returned and saw bleachers getting torn down and banners being taken down as well.