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Ohio Republicans Crusade for Cleveland Convention

Ohio Republicans Crusade for Cleveland Convention in 2016
In the fight to host the Republican Convention in 2016, Portman has taken a top role in working to bring the quadrennial confab to Cleveland. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Who will be next to call Cleveland home: LeBron James, or the 2016 Republican National Convention?

In the coming days, GOP officials are expected to announce their pick — Cleveland or Dallas — to host the quadrennial confab that officially nominates the party’s presidential ticket. For months, Ohio’s most powerful GOP players in Congress have put the full-court press on the Republican National Committee’s site selection committee to bring the 2016 convention to the re-emergent lakeside city.

Looking for delegate-friendly tourist attractions in The Cleve, or as those less charitable may refer to it, The Mistake by the Lake? Speaker John A. Boehner has some tips. Another top Buckeye Republican, Sen. Rob Portman, keeps in touch with site selection committee members in between their Cleveland visits. Their efforts stand out compared to the Texas delegation, which left much of the city’s bid work to Dallas pols and business leaders.

“I’ve been actively involved in the host committee, helping them put together a bid that makes sense,” Portman said in a July 3 phone interview. “There was a temptation to overlook Cleveland. I think it was necessary to let people know this is not your father’s Cleveland. This is the new Cleveland.”

Between parades and barbecues on the Fourth of July, Portman met with the 2016 Cleveland Host Committee over cheese and fruit at former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett’s home. It marked the third or fourth time Portman has met with the host committee, Bennett said.

The holiday powwow came days after a small group of RNC site selection committee members made a final visit to Cleveland last week — an opportunity not given to Dallas.

“Hello, and welcome to the great state of Ohio,” Boehner said in a straight-to-camera video message to the committee before an earlier visit. “I couldn’t be more proud to support Cleveland’s bid to host the Republican National Convention.”

A Cincinnati-area native, Boehner recommended a number of the city’s tourist attractions for the committee, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Lake Erie and “a round of golf on one of the area’s great golf courses.”

Rep. David Joyce, who represents the region northeast of Cleveland, met with the site selection committee during its June visit, according to the Republican’s office.

By comparison, Texas members have taken a back seat in bringing the convention to Dallas in 2016. Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who serves as co-chairwoman of the host committee effort to bring the convention to Dallas, described their bid as more of a local effort.

“I don’t think they really have gotten involved,” Hutchison said in a phone interview last week. “We put together a host committee, and the Republicans are on it, but they have not gotten involved in the presentations or anything like that.”

“I want us to get it,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, a Republican who represents northeast Dallas. “When asked, we helped. I think our presentation was most respectful and presented in a professional way.”

The RNC’s site selection committee might host a call with members as early as Tuesday, when it could decide to enter contract negotiations with one of the cities. The RNC’s full membership will vote on the selection at its August meeting, but will likely approve the site selection committee’s pick.

There are logistical and political considerations for each city. But in the end, the RNC’s decision could come down to timing.

Republicans have pushed to move the conventions earlier in the summer, so the eventual presidential nominee can take advantage of fundraising for the general election earlier in the cycle.

The proposed convention venue in Dallas, American Airlines Center, is home to the Mavericks National Basketball Association team, as well as the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars, and cannot commit to hosting the convention until July. Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena hosts Cavaliers basketball, but city officials have told the RNC they can make a June convention work.

“I really think it comes down to the dates,” Hutchison said. “Dallas can only do it in July. I think Cleveland has an offering that allows June.”

Republicans also view Cleveland as an opportunity to make inroads into a swing state during a presidential cycle. No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio.

“Some people say it doesn’t matter,” Portman said. “I think that’s in part because other states and cities don’t do as much as we would do to generate enthusiasm from volunteers and grass-roots activists around the state.”

What’s more, Republicans see Ohio’s slate of top candidates — and likely prime-time television speakers — as more palatable to a national audience.

“Dallas is a great city, but with it comes a web of political drama because of large local personalities like Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and President [George W. Bush],” said Kyle Downey, a Republican consultant and RNC convention spokesman in 2012. “Combined, this would disadvantage our nominee because the whole point of a convention is to package their vision for the future and launch the fight for the White House. Without that drama, Cleveland is a more strategic launching ground.”

Democrats are also looking at Cleveland, but will likely drop the city from consideration if Republicans choose it first.

Currently, the Democratic National Committee will decide between six cities for the party’s 2016 convention: Birmingham, Ala.; New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Columbus and Cleveland. According to the DNC, a 15-member Technical Advisory Committee, led by DNC CEO Amy Dacey, has scheduled overnight visits to all of the locations in late July through mid-September.

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, will make the final selection before early next year.

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