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Dallas vs. Cleveland: The battle to host the 2016 Republican convention

The Republican National Committee has narrowed its pool of possible 2016 convention cities down to two: Dallas and Cleveland. So we decided to give the two cities — who, after all, volunteered for the honor — a chance to make their case.

Texas vs. Cleveland. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Before we get to that though, let's talk about the process. There's a lot of time and energy that goes into the selection of the host cities. Chin-stroking by political leaders. Obsequious presentations by the possible cities. Media coverage that treats the whole thing like the Olympics. (Guilty!)

For the parties, there are three goals. First: To have the convention pay for itself. Second: To make the delegates happy (and energized). And third, ideally: To improve electoral chances.

It's easy to track the third factor. And in the last three presidential election cycles, the Democrats have done a little better in that regard than the Republicans. Here's how the vote total in each host city has fared for the guest party between the election prior to the convention and the one that year.

The Democrats saw an improvement in each election in the host city. The Republicans — didn't. But it's not just that city that matters. Here's how the parties did in each host state between the previous election and the election of the convention year.

Year Convention site Party Win in previous election? Convention year?
2004 New York Republican No No
2004 Boston Democratic Yes Yes
2008 St. Paul Republican No No
2008 Denver Democratic No Yes
2012 Tampa Republican No No
2012 Charlotte Democratic Yes No

In four of the last six examples, the party didn't win the state in which the convention was held. In only one case — Denver, 2008 — did the party win a state it had lost in the previous cycle.

So it doesn't seem to do much for the party. What about the city? Using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, we looked at the GDP in each city for the years on either side of the convention. And, since cities are part of a national economy that can have a bigger effect than one four-day convention, we compared the convention sites to nearby cities, to see what the benefit actually was. (No 2013 data was available.)

In nearly every case, the economy of the host cities grew faster than nearby cities between the year prior to the convention and the convention year, and between that year and the one that followed. But note that between 2008 and 2009, the host city economies contracted faster, as the recession kicked in. Which tends to suggest that this may largely be a function of the size of the cities, versus any significant effect from the conventions.

But regardless! Dallas (outside of which, full disclosure, my father lives) and Cleveland (where, full disclosure, my mother grew up) are vying feverishly for the chance to play host. We got them on the phone to hear their pitches.

I spoke with Phillip Jones, president of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Terry Egger, former publisher of the Plain Dealer and now the head of the group hoping to bring the convention to town. I asked each of them to explain, in 10 words, why their cities should be selected. Neither did it in 10 words.

Jones, for Dallas: "Dallas is the perfect city to host the RNC because of our location, the ability to raise the money, and the delegate experience." (Word count: 23.)

Egger, for Cleveland: "Total renaissance in the downtown area. Hotels, venues, and the Quicken Loans Arena facilities, combined with an unbelievably strong public-private partnership committed to making this happen." (Word count: 27, if you count "public-private" as two words.)

Each man was obviously practiced in making the case for his city. Jones pitched Dallas's arts district and fine restaurants; Eggers, Cleveland's classical music venues and "funky neighborhoods." (And its restaurants.) Each had a fundamentally different sales pitch for RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. Jones kept hitting Dallas' "deep pockets" that would help them raise the money to host. Eggers said simply, "We want to be the best host they've ever had."

And then I gave them each the chance to do something that Priebus might frown upon: badmouth the competition. Jones didn't waste any time. "Cleveland," he said, "is one of the top three cities in America for out migration. Dallas is one of the top three cities for in migration. I think that pretty much sums it up." Eggers was more diplomatic. "I don't think Dallas is a bad choice. I just think we would be a better choice."

It's fitting, really: the humble Midwesterner vs. the brash, chrome-accented Texan. Which was an attitude Jones wasn't shy about embracing. "The RNC has tried the swing state strategy and it hasn't worked out too well," he said, which our research above seems to reinforce. "I think it's appropriate for them to play to their strengths, and launch their campaign from one of their strongholds" — what he described as the reddest state in America. In contrast, Egger: "We have one thing we control, and that's how we execute." Ohio, am I right?

So we will see. Will the RNC choose Dallas, a state that it's basically guaranteed to win? Will it choose Cleveland, offering delegates the chance to tour the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame* before watching Ohio, as likely as not, vote Democratic? For all of the discussion of the choice, it probably won't make much of a difference. But in lieu of covering the choice of an Olympic host city, this is the best we've got.

* By law, every mention of Cleveland as a tourist destination must mention the Hall of Fame.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.



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