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Cleveland Leaders Hope Hotels Will Land Them Convention

Ohio’s three biggest cities are all in the running to host the Republican National Convention in 2016. Representatives from Cleveland and Columbus are in D.C. this week to try to woo the GOP to this presidential battleground state, and Cincinnati reps will be there soon to do the same. The pitch to Republicans goes like this: Come to Ohio, reserve rooms in our hotels, buy dinners and drinks in our restaurants, and put money on the table in our casinos – and you might go home with the promise of our 18 electoral votes…and maybe the presidency. It’s not the first time we’ve heard this. Cleveland made bids for the 2008 and 2012 conventions—but no luck. Early this year, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald – who’s now running for governor as a Democrat – offered one reason. “If you go back into history and look at when we tried to get conventions and failed before, a lot of times it was hinging on the fact that we didn’t have the hotel capacity.â€? But he says it’s different this time. Across the street, excavators tear apart the old county headquarters that stands right next to the city’s brand new convention center. A county-owned hotel will go up in its place – one of several new downtown hotels in the works. Cleveland may be expanding its capacity, but Columbus officials are hoping their city will prove more attractive. Brian Ross heads Experience Columbus, the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau. He says Columbus’ growth and vitality will appeal to convention planners. “We are the 15th largest city in the nation. We’re the largest city in Ohio, one of the most successful and prosperous economies in the nation," Ross says. And Columbus’s Democratic mayor, Michael Coleman, has thrown in an additional pitch, according to Time.com, suggesting to the GOP that Ohio would go red if they brought their convention to his city. Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou is also working the political angle in his pitch for bring the convention to Cincinnati. “I think our edge really is our geographic location and our importance on the Republican electoral map...Voter turnout matter a great deal in the southwestern part of the state, especially for Republicans.â€? He says Cincinnati’s downtown on the Ohio River should also be a big draw for Republicans. Former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson was co-chair of the RNC from 2005 to 2009. She says local politics is a consideration in choosing a convention host, but more importantly, cities have to prove they can handle a big event – and make delegates happy. “It is hotel rooms. It is how long they have to be transported on the bus. It is an ability to get them in and out of the arena in a timely fashion.â€? So what’s in it for the host city? Fame, for one thing, says Positively Cleveland’s David Gilbert: “If you have four or five thousand media, not only are they going to be reporting on what’s happening politically, but they’re also going to try to relate a lot of that to the city that they’re in.â€? And, he says, all those dollars spent on food and hotel beds would add up to a big windfall. That’s something College of the Holy Cross economics professor Robert Baumann questions. He says cities should be honest within themselves – a convention might make them famous, but in might not make them rich. “The hospitality industry, I’m sure they’re thrilled. And I’m sure they’re advocating for it because I’m sure they’re going to make money...but when you add up all the industries in the city as a whole, what they’re gaining is offset by losses in other areas.â€? Plus, host cities have to raise at least $55 million from local and national business groups. The other contenders are Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Kansas City and Denver. Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto teaches politics and governance at the University of Texas. She says Ohio has an advantage over Arizona and New Mexico in the Electoral College. But she says if Republicans are hoping to remake their image after two presidential defeats, and court Latino voters – maybe they should go west. "I think the message is one of, ‘We’re renewing ourselves, and part of that renewal is we want to reach out to new electorate of the South and the Southwest.’ It’s that typical Sun Belt versus Rust Belt.â€? It will be months before we hear what the GOP decides. In the meantime, at least one city is hedging its bets. In case the Republicans go elsewhere, Columbus is also courting Democrats for their convention.