Cleveland, A Democratic Stronghold, Wins GOP Convention
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. We do not know which Republican will accept the nomination for president in 2016. We do know where.
MONTAGNE: Cleveland is celebrating that honor. Republicans chose it over Dallas.
INSKEEP: Maybe Cleveland just won because it's in the swing state of Ohio, but however it happened, the city takes it as a sign of a comeback. Nick Castele reports from member station WCPN.
NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: In the early days of the competition to host the convention, other contenders may have outshone Cleveland in popular appeal. After all, Las Vegas was once vying for Republicans' attention. But when announcing the pick on Fox News, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus said this Democratic power base on the shores of Lake Erie had plenty to offer Republican delegates in the summer of 2016.
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REINCE PRIEBUS: I think that it is a city that's on the rise. I got to tell you, if you haven't been to Cleveland lately, it's a - it's a real surprise how beautiful it is down by that lake.
CASTELE: Priebus says politics had less to do with the decision than did business, like lining up hotel rooms, restaurants and sports and meeting venues. In recent years, Cleveland's public-private partnership has spent more than a billion dollars building a new convention center, hotels and housing, as well as a wide variety of restaurants and trendy bars. Cleveland's Democratic Mayor, Frank Jackson, says the city won over Republicans with a coordinated message.
MAYOR FRANK JACKSON: We showed them that we were hungry for this and that we wanted this and that if they came to Cleveland, they would be the centerpiece not only of Cleveland, but the entire region.
CASTELE: That includes raising more than $60 million to support the convention. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald is running for governor as a Democrat this fall. But yesterday, he stood with the local Republican Party chairman to celebrate.
ED FITZGERALD: There's always been a faction that's been pretty loud in this community that told us reasons why we couldn't do things and why we couldn't succeed and why different setbacks that we had were going to define this, and those people were wrong.
CASTELE: Politically, it puts the two parties in sort of an odd position, with local Democrats welcoming Republicans and other parts of the party stressing northeastern Ohio's pro-labor and pro-democratic history. Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern says he isn't concerned that Republicans are coming here.
CHRIS REDFERN: Coming to Cleveland for a convention will not convince Midwesterners that somehow Republicans better understand their challenges.
CASTELE: Still, sprinkled among this Democratic stronghold are hundreds of thousands of suburban Republican voters, whom the GOP will likely need to win Ohio. Senior Brookings Fellow Bill Galston says bringing their convention to the most fought-over swing state lets the GOP send the message that it takes 2016 very seriously, but he warns that a convention may not be enough to get folks.
BILL GALSTON: The Democrats chose North Carolina in 2012, and that didn't work out so well.
CASTELE: In fact, Republicans haven't won the state hosting their convention in more than two decades. But Galston says the GOP wants to bring its message to urban minority voters.
GALSTON: The Republican Party needs to fight for votes outside those demographic groups that have traditionally given the Republican Party their support.
CASTELE: In downtown Cleveland, Jennifer Haywood says she's not a conservative, but she'll listen to what Republicans have to say if they can tell her how they'd tackle Cleveland challenges, like retraining unemployed workers.
JENNIFER HAYWOOD: You know, what are we doing now that manufacturing is gone? If they can bring some real, hard substance to those hard questions, then I'll take a look at them.
CASTELE: As Cuyahoga County's GOP chairman puts it, the convention gives Cleveland the chance to show itself off to Republicans, and Republicans a chance to reintroduce themselves to voters who traditionally vote for the other party. For NPR News, I'm Nick Castele in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.