The “new and improved” Cleveland will get a chance to shed its shoddy image as the “mistake on the lake” and the rust-belt city whose river once caught fire as the GOP on Tuesday chose it to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.
The decision to have tens of thousands of Republicans, reporters, and onlookers descend on the city may have had a lot to do with Cleveland’s promise to raise big money and the availability of key venues for a late June, 2016, target date. But it also can’t hurt for the GOP to hold their convention in Ohio, a perennial must-win state in presidential elections.
“Of course, they’ll say one of the reasons they chose Ohio is because it’s the ultimate purple swing state,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, who has attended every convention since 1976.
“OK, that’s true, but history suggests [a convention] doesn’t have much of an impact on the general election,” he said. “It will only help Republicans if they do what Obama and the Democrats did with Denver in 2008. They used that convention to train thousands of local volunteers who went out, registered voters, and got out the vote in Colorado.”
Mr. Sabato likened the selection of Cleveland to the Republicans’ choice of Detroit in 1980.
“When Republicans picked Detroit, it showed [Ronald] Reagan’s ability to win working-class, white Democrats,” Mr. Sabato said. “It didn’t help much in Detroit, but it did help in Macomb County, where the Reagan Democrats were created.”
Cleveland was recommended over its closest competitor, Republican-friendly Dallas. Both Cleveland and Columbus are still contenders for the Democratic convention, but it remains to be seen how Cleveland’s selection for the GOP event will affect its chances. Philadelphia, Phoenix, New York, and Birmingham, Ala., are also in the running for the Democratic convention.
“The team from Cleveland has gone above and beyond the call of duty, and I think they’re representative of a city eager to show the country all the fantastic things they have to offer,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said.
“The RNC set a new standard for conventions during this process,” he said. “Not only will the convention be held earlier in 2016, but there are also substantial guarantees in place for funding that put us well ahead of previous conventions and will give our nominee the best opportunity to succeed.”
The RNC is targeting a late June convention, about two months earlier than usual, to allow its presidential candidate to take better advantage of federal funds after being formally nominated.
A study commissioned in the wake of the GOP convention in Tampa in August, 2012, measured the direct financial benefit for the week-long event at $214 million, reaching as high as $404 million as the benefits circulated in the broader local economy.
Positively Cleveland, the city’s tourism bureau, has estimated the economic benefits to be between $200 million and $300 million.
Quicken Loans Arena in the city’s downtown will serve as the primary convention center while delegates, reporters, and other observers will be based in hotels scattered throughout the city and the surrounding area.
“There’s no doubt the perception of Cleveland is nowhere near the reality,” said Joe Roman, CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership. “A common story from the business community is that it’s sometimes difficult to attract a person to come to Cleveland, but once they’re here they don’t want to leave.”
The region has committed itself to raising an estimated $60 million for the convention and expects about $40 million from the federal government. That money will be spent locally on items such as new security cameras, which will be left behind when conventioneers leave.
Toledo hopes it might have a chance to bask in some of Cleveland’s glory.
“Anytime there’s a positive event going on in the state, it helps everybody,” said Tony Vetter, director of sales for the Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It will be great for the city of Cleveland. … Anytime Ohio gets national press, it’s good.”
But neither he nor Bill Wersell, vice president of Business Development Services for the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, expect direct benefits from the Cleveland convention as it did from the 1980 Detroit convention. The hotel overflow might reach as far as the Sandusky resort area about an hour west of Cleveland, but not much farther than that, they said.
“But just having a national convention in the state gives us great credibility for all the types of services we provide,” Mr. Wersell said.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.