With Eye on Midwest in '08, GOP Picks Twin Cities for Convention

By Peter Slevin and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 28, 2006

CHICAGO, Sept. 27 -- The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul will host the 2008 Republican National Convention, the GOP announced Wednesday in an early signal of the likely significance of the Midwest in the next presidential election.

Moving away from the coasts for the first time in 16 years -- and choosing the Twin Cities for the first time since 1892 -- the Republicans also preempted the Democrats, who had narrowed their own convention selection to three sites, including Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The Democrats will now choose between New York and Denver, a spokeswoman said.

Steven Schier, a prominent Minnesota political commentator on the faculty of Carleton College, said the timing and the tactics suggest that the national Republican Party hopes to help its Minnesota candidates this year and appeal to voters in a swath of battleground states in 2008.

"This should not be considered just a Minnesota choice," he said. "You've got three swing states: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. We're very much a battleground state. We were in '04 and we will be in '08. Same in Wisconsin, same in Iowa."

In 2004, President Bush squeaked past Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in Iowa by 10,000 votes, while Kerry finished 11,000 votes ahead of Bush in neighboring Wisconsin. Kerry beat Bush in Minnesota by 100,000 votes out of 3 million cast. Even so, that Minnesota was competitive at all was a sign of changing times in a state that for decades was dominated by nationally prominent Democrats such as Hubert H. Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Walter F. Mondale.

Parties tend to consider convention locations a symbol, although the effect is often minimal. In 1980, the last time the Republicans chose the Midwest, delegates convened in Detroit to highlight Ronald Reagan's determination to win blue-collar votes, a successful strategy.

The GOP chose Philadelphia in 2000, hoping to boost Bush's chances in a tightly contested state, but he lost there in 2000 and 2004.

This time around, Republicans had narrowed the choice to the Twin Cities or Tampa after ruling out Cleveland. With memories of Hurricane Katrina still fresh, Florida's chances were hurt by the fact that the Sept. 1-4 convention comes in the heart of storm season.

The Democrats, who expect to choose a host city by the end of the year, will focus on two that have potentially serious liabilities, said one Democrat familiar with the search.

New York's principal drawback is its cost, while Denver's primary problem centers on its trade union status.

Although the Democrats see the Rocky Mountain West as an area of potential electoral growth, Denver has labor problems, including a shortage of union hotels. That could make it difficult for a party that relies heavily on union campaign money and muscle to justify choosing the Mile-High City as its host.

Officials from the party and the city are working to see if these obstacles can be overcome.

As the political leadership of Minnesota and the Twin Cities celebrated their victory on Wednesday, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (D) said he thinks the Democrats would have chosen the Twin Cities if Republicans hadn't. "The good news about the Republicans choosing us instead of the Democrats," Coleman joked, "is they have more money."

Balz reported from Washington.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company