Cleveland beats Dallas in bid to host Republican Convention

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by JENNY DOREN and DEMOND FERNANDEZ

WFAA

Posted on July 8, 2014 at 6:33 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 8 at 4:07 PM

DALLAS — Live elephants weren't enough to lure the Republican National Convention to Dallas in 2016.

On Tuesday morning, the Republican National Convention Site Committee announced Cleveland, Ohio won their approval.

"The RNC will now enter into exclusive negotiations on key details for the 2016 convention," read a statement released by the RNC after the announcement.

"We hate to lose," said Phillip Jones of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's not fun coming in second."

The Republicans' site selection committee backed Cleveland over donor-rich Dallas, and the full 168-member RNC is expected to ratify the choice next month.

While Dallas rolled out the red carpet, Cleveland had one major advantage — it's in a swing state. The move signals the role Ohio's 18 electoral votes play in presidential campaigns.

"As goes Ohio, so goes the presidential race," said party Chairman Reince Priebus.

"Very disappointed," was all Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell could say. "Very disappointed."

That sentiment was echoed by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. "On one hand, I'm disappointed obviously, because we wanted this to come to Dallas."

Designed with conventions in mind, the American Airlines Center may have been another reason Dallas didn't win the bid. The RNC committee wants to hold the convention in June, but both the Mavs and Stars have the AAC reserved for games that month.

If the committee chose Dallas, they'd have to move the date to July.

"I extend my deepest gratitude to Dallas," said Enid Mickelsen, a chairwoman with the committee. "Dallas is a world-class city with wonderful venues and fantastic people, and I’m certain they’ll make a great host for our party in the future. The Dallas team were excellent ambassadors for their city and showed both the committee and the RNC all the wonderful things the city has to offer."

Dallas rolled out the welcome mat for site selectors last month, putting on a Texas-sized presentation for the team — complete with live elephants. The RNC chairman even called it a "slam dunk."

Paying for the convention was another priority. The previous two GOP conventions sapped party dollars during election years, and Priebus insisted the host city not leave the central party picking up the tab.

Although Dallas had the edge on fundraising as recently as last month, Cleveland narrowed that gap and lined up early pledges toward the expected $60 million price tag.

Hosting the convention could have pumped a lot of cash into the city and about $250 million into the local economy. It would have also meant up to 96,000 hotel rooms booked every night with about 40,000 convention delegates and visitors, including 15,000 media representatives.

The RNC did not announce a start date for the 2016 convention, but Priebus said that June 28 or July 18 are the two options under consideration.

"June is not an option for us," said former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was involved in Dallas' bid. "Reince really wants June."

Priebus wanted the convention scheduled for early summer of 2016, roughly two months sooner than has become the norm. That would give the GOP's next presidential nominee faster access to tens of millions of dollars in general election cash.

"The candidate can be broke, but they're not able to raise general election money until the convention is held," Priebus said.

"In a perfect world, we could have offered June dates, but we didn't have hotel availability and we didn't have venue availability, and so that's something we really had no control over," Jones said.

Organizers earlier eliminated bids from Denver; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri; Las Vegas and Phoenix.

After Las Vegas was no longer in play, Dallas emerged as a major competitor, in part because of its coalition of wealthy donors with ties to the Bush family and the oil industry. Dallas hosted the 1984 Republican convention, and Texas is seen as a reliably GOP state in presidential elections.

But Cleveland has made an aggressive — and persuasive — pitch to host Republicans on the shores of Lake Erie. The city — once dubbed "The Mistake by the Lake," the place where the polluted Cuyahoga River actually caught fire — has undergone dramatic redevelopment in recent years. Officials estimate that $4.5 billion in projects have been completed in the past decade or are about to begin construction.

"I've got to tell you: If you haven't been to Cleveland lately, it's a real surprise how beautiful it is down by that lake," Priebus said in announcing the decision on the Fox News Channel.

Ohio's allure as a political prize proved tempting. The last candidate to win the White House without Ohio was John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, in 1960.

Republicans have not won the state where it has staged a national convention since 1992, when President George H.W. Bush kicked off his re-election bid.

Cleveland last hosted the Republican convention in 1936. The GOP lost the state by 21 points. Cleveland also hosted the 1924 GOP convention and Republicans carried the state by 35 points.

Democrats, meanwhile, are on their own timeline for picking a convention venue. Democratic National Committee officials will begin site visits with a stop July 21 in Birmingham, Alabama. Other cities in contention are New York City; Philadelphia; Columbus, Ohio; and Phoenix.

Cleveland was a choice for Democrats, too. But if the full RNC ratifies Cleveland as its choice as expected, Democrats will drop Cleveland as an option.

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is expected to announce a host city either late this year or early in 2015.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

E-mail: jdoren@wfaa.com and dfernandez@wfaa.com

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