Cleveland Strongly Eyed by Both Parties for 2016 Conventions

Friday, 04 Jul 2014 03:17 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Cleveland is not a "mistake by the lake," according to committees seeking out locations for the 2016 political conventions. To planners from both parties, Cleveland rocks.

The northeast Ohio community is the only city to make the short lists for both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, reports The New York Times, and the once-ridiculed city whose Cuyahoga River caught fire from pollution and whose sports teams perpetually land at the bottom of the charts is suddenly becoming the center of a lot of attention.

Landing the convention would bring the city by Lake Erie tens of thousands of visitors from all around the country, millions of dollars for its economy, and a sense of positive national attention that could help quiet some of the jokes that have been made at the town's expense for decades.

Downtown Cleveland, after years of lost industry and revenue, is making a revival. Newcomers are revitalizing the city's neighborhoods, and between Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, its burgeoning restaurant scene, and recent regrowth, many visitors are regarding Cleveland as a new "hip" place to be.

But it isn't Cleveland's sudden hipness that's making the parties both look at it as a contender for their conventions. Ohio is the nation's swing state whose voters have correctly picked the winner of the presidential race since 1964. In 2012, President Barack Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney heavily targeted the state, and there is no doubt Ohio will once again be the campaigns' focus once the 2016 nominees are picked.

This past week, representatives from the Republican National Committee returned for a third visit, after the organization selected Cleveland and Dallas as its two finalists to host the convention. Meanwhile, Democrats narrowed their field of candidates between Cleveland and Ohio capital city Columbus, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Birmingham, Ala.

Cleveland is mainly Democratic and has large numbers of African-American voters, but surrounding Cuyahoga County trends Republican, and the Cleveland host committee claims that had Cuyahoga swung its vote by just 15 percent in 2012, Republicans would have taken the state.

But the host committee isn't burning its Cuyahoga bridges when it comes to attracting the Democratic convention: it boasts the county "delivered the second-largest Democratic margin of victory for a county in a battleground state."

A convention doesn't always deliver a state's votes, however. Democrats did not win the vote in North Carolina, even though the 2012 convention was in Charlotte, and Republicans lost Florida after holding their convention in Tampa.

The decision will come down to many factors, said RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney.

The city selected must also be financially and physically able to host the event. There must be enough hotel rooms available and the host committee must be able to raise enough money. In addition, timing comes into play. Republicans in 2012 waited until August to host the convention, which did not allow Romney to use general election funds until August.

Cleveland says it can host a convention as early as June, while Dallas has promised July, and Mahoney said either date will work. However, RNC members, at their summer meeting in Boston last August, were in general agreement that their next national convention should —for the first time in 68 years —be held in June rather than closer to the presidential election

The RNC has said it will decide on a city next month, and if it picks Cleveland, the Democrats will strike the city off their list.

But other factors are working against Cleveland, including negative headlines about population loss, foreclosures, and the kidnappings of three women held hostage for more than 10 years.

Then there is the city residents' feelings of self-doubt.

"What doesn’t help is the inferiority complex so many people have here; there’s no reason for that,” said syndicated columnist Connie Schultz, who moved with her husband, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to the city from the suburbs to be part of its renaissance. She said people often thank them for believing in their new neighborhood.

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