How to Win a Party Convention: Hotel Rooms, Big Money””and Swag

From fireworks shows to dinner at the mayoral mansion, cities trying to host the 2016 conventions have pulled out all the stops.

Balloons drop after Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney accepted the nomination during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 30, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate during the RNC which will conclude today.
National Journal
Adam Wollner
Aug. 22, 2014, 1 a.m.

In Phil­adelphia, they greeted Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee mem­bers with cheesesteaks and a “Rocky” im­per­son­at­or.

In Kan­sas City, they treated a Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee del­eg­a­tion to a fire­works dis­play. Dal­las? They rolled out an ac­tu­al red car­pet and a pair of ele­phants.

Those who have helped de­term­ine which cit­ies get to host party nom­in­at­ing con­ven­tions say the most im­port­ant factors in­clude hav­ing enough hotel rooms, a suf­fi­cient con­ven­tion cen­ter, vi­able trans­port­a­tion op­tions, and the abil­ity to raise enough money. Polit­ic­al factors, like wheth­er the city is loc­ated in a swing state, in­ev­it­ably come in­to play.

But it doesn’t hurt to wow the site-se­lec­tion com­mit­tee mem­bers when they come to town for a vis­it, either. In or­der to host the most elab­or­ate show in polit­ics, cit­ies first try to prove that they can put one on.

“Cit­ies that win have been cit­ies that really put a lot of em­phas­is in demon­stra­tion that they can put on a show, be­cause while it is not the is­sue or the most im­port­ant is­sue, it is a is­sue in this laun­dry list of things you have to be con­cerned about,” said former DNC Chair­man Joe An­drew, who was in­volved in the site-se­lec­tion pro­cess for three con­ven­tions.

Party con­ven­tions are highly sought-after by city of­fi­cials””and for good reas­on. Every four years, they at­tract tens of thou­sands of people, bring in hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in rev­en­ue, and put the host city squarely in the cen­ter of the na­tion­al spot­light. Dozens of cit­ies across the coun­try have the re­sources to host a party con­ven­tion, so those in the run­ning need to find unique ways to dis­tin­guish them­selves and im­press the site-se­lec­tion com­mit­tee when it swings through.

When the RNC made its June vis­it to Clev­e­land, which ul­ti­mately won the right to host the 2016 Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion, city of­fi­cials gave them a tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and even in­tro­duced them to the Clev­e­land Browns’ star rook­ie quar­ter­back, Johnny Man­ziel.

But oth­er cit­ies that wooed the RNC didn’t fail for of a lack of try­ing. In Kan­sas City, there was the fire­works show and a vis­it to the Sprint Cen­ter that in­cluded video of a Ron­ald Re­agan speech and a per­form­ance of “God Bless the U.S.A.” from a loc­al 12-year-old. City of­fi­cials also con­sidered of­fer­ing the RNC del­eg­a­tion tab­let com­puters and signed base­balls from Kan­sas City Roy­als le­gend George Brett, among many oth­er things, ac­cord­ing to emails ob­tained by the Kan­sas City Star.

Demo­crats are still de­cid­ing where to host their con­ven­tion in two years, though they have nar­rowed their list to five fi­nal­ists. Phil­adelphia ap­pears to be a slight front-run­ner, but Brook­lyn; Colum­bus, Ohio; Phoenix; and Birm­ing­ham, Ala., are also in the mix.

New York politi­cians tried to em­phas­ize the trendy bor­ough’s “cool” im­age when the Demo­crats’ site-se­lec­tion com­mit­tee came in­to town earli­er this month, drop­ping names of loc­al celebrit­ies past and present be­fore vis­it­ing New York City staples like the Met­ro­pol­it­an Mu­seum of Art and the Rock­e­feller Cen­ter. Com­mit­tee mem­bers were giv­en gift bags with Louis Arm­strong CDs and stuffed an­im­als from the Bronx Zoo.

“We have swag on lock­down,” New York City Coun­cil­wo­man Laurie Cumbo said dur­ing the DNC’s site vis­it.

From Colum­bus May­or Mi­chael Cole­man’s per­spect­ive, his city needed to pull out all the stops””in­clud­ing a blue-car­pet wel­come, mass choir per­form­ance, and fire­works show””to prop­erly in­tro­duce the DNC of­fi­cials to the largest city in Ohio, which has nev­er hos­ted a ma­jor party con­ven­tion be­fore.

“Every­body in Colum­bus wants this in our city,” said Cole­man, a Demo­crat. “This is more than a busi­ness pro­pos­i­tion to us. And they felt an em­brace that’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to emu­late from an en­tire com­munity, not just from a seg­ment of the com­munity.”

Cre­at­ing a spec­tacle for com­mit­tee mem­bers is by no means a new strategy for con­ven­tion-seek­ing cit­ies. Former RNC Chair­man Haley Bar­bour re­called that when the site-se­lec­tion com­mit­tee vis­ited New York City when it was vy­ing to host the 1996 GOP con­ven­tion, TV star Re­gis Phil­bin hos­ted a lunch for them and May­or Rudy Gi­uliani in­vited them to Gracie Man­sion for din­ner.

Cur­rent May­or Bill de Bla­sio and Gi­uliani don’t have too much in com­mon””but de Bla­sio ad­op­ted the same tac­tic this year.

“New York put the big pot in the little one,” Bar­bour said, even though the city was ul­ti­mately elim­in­ated from con­ten­tion.

One mo­ment from An­drew’s DNC ten­ure that stuck out was his trip to the con­ven­tion cen­ter in Los Angeles in 2000. Dur­ing the tour, 40 “an­gels” sud­denly des­cen­ded from the ceil­ing wear­ing “mod­ern, con­tem­por­ary, some­times wild cos­tumes.”

“Those kinds of things, ob­vi­ously, are mem­or­able,” An­drew said. “They had noth­ing to do with wheth­er the city had the abil­ity to raise the money, wheth­er the city had the hotel rooms, wheth­er the city had the right con­ven­tion cen­ter, which are all the big de­cisions. But they do give you some sense about wheth­er the story will be told.”

As for the 2016 Demo­crat­ic con­ven­tion, the com­mit­tee isn’t ex­pec­ted to make a fi­nal de­cision about the loc­a­tion un­til late 2014 or early next year.

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