Handicapping the Democratic Convention Sites for 2016

Philadelphia and Brooklyn are looking like early front-runners to host.

PHILADELPHIA, : Workers pull audio and video cables across an overpass built in the parking lot of the First Union Center 22 July 2000 in Philadelphia, site of the 2000 Republican National Convention. In the background is the skyline of downtown Philadelphia, about 2 miles from the convention center. Hundreds of workers are laboring around the clock to get the massive sports arena ready for the onslaught of delegates and media attending the convention. 
National Journal
Emily Schultheis
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Emily Schultheis
July 25, 2014, 1 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans may have already nailed down Clev­e­land as their con­ven­tion city for 2016 — but Demo­crats are still in the midst of the se­lec­tion pro­cess.

With the news that Clev­e­land dropped its bid to host the Demo­crat­ic con­ven­tion last week, Demo­crats’ pos­sible picks are down to five cit­ies: Birm­ing­ham, Ala; Brook­lyn, N.Y., Colum­bus, Ohio; Phil­adelphia, and Phoenix. Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee of­fi­cials began their site vis­its this week, start­ing with Birm­ing­ham; they’ll be in Colum­bus on Aug. 6-7, Brook­lyn on Aug. 11-12, Phil­adelphia on Aug. 13-14, and Phoenix on Sep. 10-11. They’re set to an­nounce their fi­nal de­cision late this year or in early 2015.

Con­ven­tion or­gan­izers al­ways say the biggest factors in city se­lec­tion aren’t polit­ic­al and that their main con­cerns are fin­an­cial (wheth­er the city can raise the money), lo­gist­ic­al (wheth­er there’s enough ven­ue space and ad­equate hotel rooms), and se­cur­ity-based.

But this is pres­id­en­tial polit­ics — there’s al­ways a polit­ic­al as­pect. As DNC of­fi­cials head to the re­main­ing four cit­ies over the rest of the sum­mer, here’s Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s ad­vice for the polit­ic­al factors they should take in­to con­sid­er­a­tion.


Demo­crats in Alabama?

Birm­ing­ham seems as if it would be a bet­ter con­tender for the Re­pub­lic­an con­ven­tion, giv­en the state’s deep-red polit­ic­al bent: Alabama hasn’t voted for a Demo­crat on the pres­id­en­tial level since 1976, so there’s little reas­on to be­lieve it would do so in 2016.

Plus, the state’s bench of Demo­crat­ic pols is one of the smal­lest on the map: No Demo­crats serve statewide, and the party has just one mem­ber of the state’s sev­en-mem­ber con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion.

On the oth­er hand, choos­ing a red state is cer­tainly one way of say­ing the party is will­ing to go to voters and talk to people out­side its com­fort zone.

As for Birm­ing­ham it­self, city lead­ers have pitched it as in the midst of a renais­sance; or­gan­izers also ar­gue that the city’s small size — its pop­u­la­tion is just over 200,000, by far the smal­lest of those in con­ten­tion — could in fact be a plus, mak­ing con­ven­tion ho­tels and ven­ues more cent­rally loc­ated. But it’s tough to see or­gan­izers choos­ing this South­ern city over some of the oth­ers on their short­l­ist.


There’s no doubt that Brook­lyn, with all of New York City nearby, could handle the in­flux of the thou­sands of del­eg­ates, journ­al­ists, and politi­cians that comes with host­ing a party con­ven­tion.

Go­ing to Brook­lyn doesn’t of­fer much in terms of a polit­ic­al bump: The Em­pire State is solidly in the Demo­crat­ic column, a fact the con­ven­tion won’t change. But as far as polit­ic­al op­tics go, New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo has said choos­ing Brook­lyn would put a spot­light on Hur­ricane Sandy re­cov­ery ef­forts. In his let­ter to DNC Chair­wo­man Debbie Wasser­man Schultz, Cuomo said a Brook­lyn 2016 DNC would “show­case that New York spir­it” that makes the city “al­ways come to­geth­er to build back stronger, smarter, and bet­ter than ever be­fore.”

Plus, New York is a state Hil­lary Clin­ton rep­res­en­ted for eight years in the Sen­ate; if she runs and be­comes the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee, it would rep­res­ent part of her polit­ic­al home base.

But a con­ven­tion could get lost amid the many big events that hap­pen in New York City on a reg­u­lar basis. In con­trast to some of the smal­ler cit­ies on the list, the DNC wouldn’t ne­ces­sar­ily be as much of a fo­cal point. Let’s face it: It’s un­likely that New York­ers would drop everything for a polit­ic­al con­ven­tion like some oth­er cit­ies would, even a na­tion­al one in a pres­id­en­tial year. And Demo­crats might be wary of set­ting up shop in New York City May­or Bill de Bla­sio’s home base, giv­en that he’s be­come a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure even with mem­bers of his own party.


Re­pub­lic­ans may have picked Clev­e­land for their con­ven­tion, but Demo­crats still have a chance at a swing-state con­fab of their own, in Colum­bus.

Rep­res­ent­at­ives for Colum­bus’s DNC bid came out big at the com­mit­tee’s meet­ings in D.C. earli­er this year, with a big on-site re­cep­tion com­plete with ap­pear­ances from all the Buck­eye State’s top Dems. It’s cer­tainly a well-or­gan­ized host com­mit­tee, and one that’s been in place the longest of the cit­ies in the run­ning.

But those same pols also cheered earli­er this month when Re­pub­lic­ans chose Clev­e­land — and it’s tough to see both parties choos­ing to hold their con­ven­tions in the same state. That’s both a polit­ic­al con­sid­er­a­tion and, more im­port­ant, a fin­an­cial one. It’s un­likely that two cit­ies in the same state could raise the kinds of funds ne­ces­sary to sup­port a na­tion­al con­ven­tion, and fun­drais­ing is one of the most im­port­ant con­sid­er­a­tions.

Colum­bus May­or Mi­chael Cole­man said earli­er this week that if Demo­crats don’t pick Colum­bus, they’ll lose Ohio. “The Re­pub­lic­an Party grabbing the con­ven­tion in Clev­e­land has the po­ten­tial of leav­ing this state to the Re­pub­lic­an side in 2016,” he said. That seems a bit ex­treme — Obama won the state in 2008 and 2012 — but the op­tics of ced­ing the swing-state ground to the GOP con­ven­tion cer­tainly is a con­sid­er­a­tion.


The last time Philly hos­ted a na­tion­al party con­ven­tion, it was for the Re­pub­lic­ans in 2000. But no Re­pub­lic­an has won the state since George H.W. Bush, des­pite last-ditch ef­forts there by many of the re­cent GOP nom­in­ees.

In that sense, then, it’s a sign of Demo­crat­ic suc­cess — a per­en­ni­al swing state that’s been squarely in­to the Demo­crat­ic column. The state’s siz­able white, work­ing-class pop­u­la­tion has giv­en Re­pub­lic­ans op­tim­ism that they can even­tu­ally flip it in due time. Hold­ing the con­ven­tion in the Key­stone State would be a pree­mpt­ive move to pre­vent that pos­sib­il­ity.

Phil­adelphia is also his­tor­ic­ally sig­ni­fic­ant, as the ori­gin­al United States cap­it­al and the home of In­de­pend­ence Hall and the Liberty Bell. It’s a nice back­drop for either party’s mes­sage.

There was some ques­tion earli­er this year as to wheth­er Philly May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter would be be­hind the idea, but that seems to have dis­sip­ated now that the city has of­fi­cially moved for­ward with its bid.

On the pres­id­en­tial level, the city’s me­dia mar­ket cov­ers large parts of New Jer­sey — which would be a plus if New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie does end up run­ning for pres­id­ent. And Hil­lary Clin­ton has fam­ily ties to Scrant­on; her fath­er was born there.

One oth­er plus: The Key­stone State will have a top-tier Sen­ate race next cycle, when Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Pat Toomey will be fight­ing a tough reelec­tion battle after win­ning his seat in a midterm year — and while a con­ven­tion likely wouldn’t have much im­pact on the pres­id­en­tial res­ults, it could po­ten­tially help Demo­crats de­feat Toomey.

(Full dis­clos­ure: This re­port­er is an alumna of the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania and would love noth­ing more than a Philly con­ven­tion.)


Polit­ic­ally, Phoenix would rep­res­ent Demo­crats’ hopes that they can even fur­ther ex­pand the pres­id­en­tial map through its strong per­form­ance with Latino voters. The state, with its big Latino pop­u­la­tion, has typ­ic­ally gone Re­pub­lic­an but has been closer in re­cent years.

And of the five states on the map, this is per­haps the one where a con­ven­tion bump could be the most help­ful. Win­ning Ari­zona is a Demo­crat­ic as­pir­a­tion, and it’s been close enough in the past that the­or­et­ic­ally Dems could do it in 2016.

But the con­ven­tion is still two years away, and there’s no telling what will hap­pen to the im­mig­ra­tion de­bate between now and then — and it would be nigh-im­possible to hold a con­ven­tion in Ari­zona without im­mig­ra­tion be­ing part of the con­ver­sa­tion. Does the party really want to lock it­self in­to hav­ing that de­bate now?

Im­mig­ra­tion is­sues have already caused is­sues among the pro­gress­ive com­munity for Phoenix. The 2015 Net­roots Na­tion con­fer­ence will be held there, but Daily Kos wrote an open let­ter an­noun­cing it would boy­cott the event be­cause of the state’s strict im­mig­ra­tion law, SB 1070. If oth­ers in the pro­gress­ive com­munity take that at­ti­tude to­ward a 2016 con­ven­tion, Demo­crats could be ali­en­at­ing part of their base from at­tend­ing.

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