Updated at 2:20 p.m. CT
President Donald Trump canceled a planned appearance in western Wisconsin amid calls from the city's mayor and the state's governor, both Democrats, that he not hold a rally amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
“We have received word that Air Force One is not coming to La Crosse on Saturday, so we are assuming the Trump campaign has changed its plan and is not coming to La Crosse,” Caley Cavadini, spokeswoman for La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat, said Thursday. Kabat had called for Trump to cancel the rally.
The director of the La Crosse airport said the event was canceled due to a legal issue, not concerns over the coronavirus.
A political rally violated the terms of a lease with a tenant who planned to host the rally on airport property, airport director Ian Turner said.
“The tenant was notified of this, disagreed with the City of La Crosse’s position, but opted not to host the event,” Turner said in a statement. He did not identify who the tenant was.
Trump’s campaign spokeswoman Anna Kelly did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The La Crosse rally was still listed on the president’s campaign website as of Thursday afternoon.
Trump made a similar move last month, changing his plans for large airport rallies in Nevada after local officials warned they would violate the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. There is no statewide limit on gatherings in Wisconsin after Republicans successfully challenged the Democratic governor’s “safer at home” order this spring.
Trump had scheduled two rallies in battleground Wisconsin on Saturday, one in La Crosse and another in Green Bay. Both were scheduled to be held outside at the city's airports. Both areas have been identified as a “red zone” for community spread of COVID-19 by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
The coronavirus task force report urged social distancing in “red zones” like La Crosse and Brown counties to the “maximum degree possible.” The rallies typically draw many thousands of people, who crowd closely together, shouting and cheering — the vast majority without masks.
Statewide, Wisconsin is ranked third for per-capita increases in cases over the past two weeks.
Local health officials urged attendees to follow local guidelines but stopped short of asking Trump not to come.
A collaborative of health care organizations in La Crosse, including Gundersen Health System, Mayo Clinic Health System and La Crosse County, recommends that people avoid anyplace where people aren’t wearing masks or physical distancing. They also recommend limiting outdoor gatherings to no more than 100 people.
“Masks and physical distancing should be required,” according to guidance released Wednesday by the health collaborative. “Venues should consider canceling or rescheduling any large gatherings planned for the next 14 days.”
As of Wednesday, La Crosse County had reported 3,130 cases and three deaths. The state listed the activity level of COVID-19 as “very high.”
Brown County, where Green Bay is located, has had 9,536 cases and 65 deaths. The number of positive cases over the past two weeks was up 24%, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said he hoped Trump would also cancel the Green Bay stop. If Trump holds a rally in Wisconsin he should insist his supporters wear masks and not let them in if they refuse, the governor said.
“He can control this,” Evers said.
Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt defended the president coming to Wisconsin, saying his supporters get energized by his in-person appearances.
“We’re going to take precautions,” Hitt said. “We’re going to make sure we have masks, we’re going to encourage people to wear masks. ... We need to make sure we’re open and tell people, ‘Look if you think you’ve been exposed please do not come.’ ”
Editor's note: Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.