ROCHESTER, Minn. — In a year that has forced so many life improvisations and course-corrections, Thursday in southeastern Minnesota provided a study in form.
A political barnstorming tour intended to stop in battleground Rochester ran up against the coronavirus and its attendant public safety restrictions. That set in motion a dizzying sequence of events that had Minnesota journalists dashing all day Thursday, Oct. 29.
Here's a play-by-play of how it unfolded:
11 a.m. Wednesday: We hear first word that President Donald Trump will be in Rochester at 5 p.m. Friday for the third and final stop of a Upper Midwest campaign tour four days before the general election. Rally site is believed to be Rochester International Airport, but that is not confirmed.
10:30 a.m. Thursday: We get our first tip that the rally location will be moved to McNeilus Steel in Dodge Center. This comes not long after Rochester city officials meet to plan for the rally at the airport. "We thought an agreement had been reached, or an understanding, and that a contract was ready to be signed for the use of the airport," said Rochester Mayor Kim Norton. "Everything seemed to be going well."
Noon Thursday: Reporters are able to confirm the move to Dodge Center. McNeilus Steel Chief Operating Officer Glenn Sylvester says in an email to company staff, shared on social media, that 25,000 people are expected to attend. Dodge Center has a population of 2,730, according to a 2018 estimate.
2 p.m. Thursday: In a call with reporters, officials from the Minnesota Department of Health say they weren't notified of the Dodge Center event, but said they would consult the campaign and organizers about state rules around COVID-19 mitigation measures, which cap gatherings at 250 people. It's unclear whether contact is ever made between MDH and the Trump campaign.
3:20 p.m. Thursday: First tip that the rally location in Dodge Center is canceled. Soon after, a Forum News Service reporter and a photographer observe the dismantling of bleachers and fencing that had been assembled for the rally, and hear from workers on the scene that the event has been canceled.
3:45 p.m. Thursday: Minnesota GOP sends announcement that party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan will be available to speak to reporters at the "rally location," but the announcement does not specify the venue for the rally.
3:50 p.m. Thursday: The move back to Rochester is confirmed, but will the rally be at the airport? Also up in the air: What cap will there be on crowd size? The state limit for gatherings is 250, but as reported yesterday, city officials were working to use the state's guidelines that allowed for larger groups to attend in a safe way by following guidelines similar to those for sporting events.
7:20 p.m. Thursday: City officials confirm the rally will be held at the airport, as originally planned, but it will be invitation-only and will comply with state COVID-19 guidelines.
9:58 p.m. Thursday: A news release from the Trump campaign sent to media outlets reframes the Friday rally as a "MAGA Peaceful Protest" in Rochester. "Thanks to the free speech-stifling dictates of Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison, only the first 250 people will be admitted," the campaign said in the release. The event is scheduled for 5 p.m.