Republicans choose Cleveland for 2016 convention

The Republican National Committee will host its 2016 convention in Cleveland, Chairman Reince Priebus announced Tuesday, shining a spotlight on the party’s next presidential nominee in a state considered critical to the GOP’s chances of winning the White House.

Officials on the party’s site selection committee voted Tuesday morning to choose Cleveland over Dallas, the other finalist.

Priebus said Tuesday on Fox News that the convention would begin either June 28 or July 18, depending on logistical details still to be worked out.

The decision is a big win for a city that hopes to get in on the convention and visitor business. Cleveland convention and tourism officials saw the convention as an opportunity to overcome its reputation as the “Mistake by the Lake,” hoping to show off the billions of dollars in new development downtown. The city recently opened a 750,000-square-foot convention center half a mile from Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention’s floor activities would take place.

“We couldn’t be more excited. I think that it’s a city that’s on the rise,” Priebus said on Fox News. “If you haven’t been to Cleveland lately, it’s a real surprise how beautiful it is down by that lake.”

Both cities had pledged to raise the $68 million required to provide venues and security for the four-day event, and to provide enough hotel rooms for the expected 40,000 to 50,000 delegates, journalists, party officials and guests who will attend.

The ability to raise sufficient funds to cover security and venue costs was the single most important factor to national Republicans, several top party officials said. For the first time, Republicans required both cities to put money in escrow.

In 2012, Tampa, that year’s host city, struggled to raise the necessary money. It’s even more difficult this year, after Congress voted to end a federal subsidy for national convention activities. The RNC was determined to avoid a similar headache, one committee member said.

The politics of holding a convention in a critical swing state — no Republican president since Calvin Coolidge has won the White House without carrying Ohio — look good, but sources said it was less a factor than the city’s ability to raise money and put on a good show. Republicans have lost the last five states in which they held political conventions, dating back to 1996.

Holding the convention in June or July of the presidential year bucks the recent trend of conventions slipping toward Election Day. The 2012 Republican convention happened during the final week of August; Democrats held their convention the following week, after Labor Day.

In an era when presidential campaigns accepted matching funds, limiting what they could raise and spend in the general election, compressing the general election period and husbanding limited resources made sense. But now that presidential candidates are virtually guaranteed to decline matching funds in order to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the general election, holding a convention late doesn’t make as much sense.

“What ends up happening is the candidate can be broke but they’re not able to raise gen election money until the convention is held,” Priebus said of the matching fund system. “If you have an August or September convention, you’re basically sitting there with no money and no ability to raise money.”

Democrats have yet to choose the city that will host their 2016 convention, though six cities are in the running. Democratic National Committee officials are in the process of visiting Birmingham, Columbus, New York City, Philadelphia and Phoenix to assess their technical ability to host a week-long gathering in the national spotlight. Cleveland is also a finalist for the DNC, but it’s unlikely the same city would host both parties.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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