Republicans are betting on Cleveland to turn around their 2016 fortunes in the perpetual swing state of Ohio.
The party on Tuesday announced it would hold its national convention in the industrial heart of Ohio, a state that no Republican since Abraham Lincoln has lost while winning the presidency. Cleveland was declared the winner over runner-up Dallas by a 12-member site selection committee.
But their choice of the often-maligned city was also a clear political calculation.
“Ohio is always the crucial state to win for either party to win the White House. That will be no different in 2016,” Ohio-based Republican strategist Mark Weaver told The Hill.
The Buckeye State has factored prominently in every modern presidential election race. President Obama won its 18 electoral votes in 2012 and in 2008, when the state had 20 electoral votes.
Underscoring Ohio’s importance in electoral math, on election night two years ago, Republican Karl Rove pressured Fox News to delay its announcement calling the race for Obama, knowing it would be the death knell for the GOP.
Cleveland is located in Cuyahoga County, a reliably Democratic-leaning area in the state’s northeastern part on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Two years ago, in fact, Obama did better in Cuyahoga than any presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, picking up about 69 percent of the vote.
Priebus acknowledged Tuesday Republicans have had a problem in Ohio in previous cycles because they’ve focused on the state too late.
“By putting the spotlight on Ohio earlier in the summer, it will not only energize our base here in Ohio but attract other Republican activists who want to be involved in our state’s effort in the fall,” said Weaver, who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 campaign and former President George W. Bush’s campaign in 2004.
But the GOP’s early emphasis might not help them too much. Republican nominees have lost every state they’ve held their conventions in since 1996.
Tampa Bay, Fla., hosted the RNC in 2012, which was delayed because of Hurricane Isaac, but Obama wound up winning Florida’s 29 electoral votes by a slim margin. In 2008, St. Paul, Minn., hosted the convention, and Obama easily won that state’s 10 electoral votes.
President John F. Kennedy (D) was the last candidate to win the White House without Ohio.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s crucial,” former Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett said about Ohio’s significance, “but let me put it this way: Ohio is a swing state. In a very close election, with the opportunity to showcase Republicans in Northeast Ohio, I think it can make a difference. But you know, the other intangibles are who the candidate is and everything else.”
Ohio has already received more than $33 million in pledges for the convention, Bennett said. As of late June, it had banked $25 million. The RNC wants Ohio to raise at least $60 million to pay for the convention.
Dallas was the runner-up and was eliminated despite being a better epicenter for attracting GOP donors and having more hotel rooms.
Bennett, however, downplayed any hotel-related problems in Cleveland. The RNC last month said 17,000 hotel rooms would be available in the greater area, while 5,000 would be available downtown.
“Every hotel cluster is inside the county, and none of them have more than a 25-minute drive,” he said.
Weather could have also played a role in choosing the finalist, Weaver noted, saying that “the breeze off the lake here is rather pleasant during the summer.” Cleveland can reach an average of 79 degrees in June, while Dallas could top 92 degrees.
The RNC’s 168 members are expected to ratify the choice next month. The party is now working with lawyers to determine if the convention will start on June 28 or July 18 — much earlier than past conventions in an effort to coalesce behind a nominee and give him or her a fundraising boost.
Denver; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo.; Las Vegas and Phoenix were also considered as potential GOP host cities but were eliminated over the last several months.
The Democratic National Committee is also considering hosting its 2016 convention in Cleveland. Other cities in the running are New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Columbus, Ohio; and Birmingham, Ala. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is expected to announce the host city later this year or in early 2015.
However, Terry Egger, chairman of Cleveland’s RNC host committee, said Tuesday that the city wouldn’t be able to host the Democratic National Convention as well.
“There is not an opportunity to host both conventions,” he said.
Egger said the effort to host the RNC began eight years ago.
“We’re a much different city than we were in 2006,” he said, when first Cleveland pursued the RNC. “Through that process, this community learned a lot…and we learned about areas where we weren’t quite ready yet.”
Vivian Hughbanks contributed.