In Milwaukee, one of two cities vying to host the Republican presidential convention in 2024, Democrats were pilloried by would-be attendees after pre-dawn election results delivered Wisconsin for Joe Biden in the 2020 White House race . Rival Nashville, Tennessee is ruled by a mayor whose Democratic brother was effectively removed from his congressional seat by Republicans.
It’s safe to say that these two Democratic strongholds have mixed feelings about the GOP convention landing. Hosting the quadrennial gathering is an immediate spending boost, plus a few days of invaluable national presence. But it also means rolling out a welcome mat to bitter political opponents.
“Some people don’t want that to happen,” said David Crowley, a Democrat who is the Milwaukee County chairman. “Some people hold their noses at the idea of bringing this to Wisconsin. But if you put politics aside, this is how we will boost our economic activity in southeastern Wisconsin.”
The cities submitted their final pitches to the Republican National Committee in Washington last week, and a final decision is expected shortly. It could depend on whether Republicans see more value in the honky-tonk-infused branding that Nashville offers to connect with white working-class voters who will likely be the focus of the 2024 general election — or whether they do Having a chance to stake a claim on Wisconsin, a perennial presidential swing state, has its fair share of those voters in the game.
Wisconsin could determine who wins in 2024, while Tennessee has not endorsed a Democrat for president since 1996. In the campaign, history seems to favor Milwaukee. For two decades, Republicans have placed their nominating parties in swing states—North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida.
Former President Donald Trump beat Biden by 23 percentage points in Tennessee, while Biden won Nashville by 32 points. But state GOP Chairman Scott Golden said electing Nashville would allow Republicans to highlight a GOP state that has continued to grow even during the pandemic while attributing successes, including the lack thereof, to pro-business state tax policies income tax.
Proponents also argue that Music City is a more enticing getaway for attendees. The arena and convention center are just one block from downtown. The Country Music Hall of Fame is across the street. The arena invites visitors to the famous neon-lit bars with live music almost 24 hours a day. Hot chicken and cookies are never far away.
New hotels are changing the skyline in and around downtown. Golden said convention-goers could focus more on the city core, minimize the long bus journeys and remote accommodations of previous conventions, and take advantage of the branding opportunity.
“It’s actually a very good narrative of America,” Golden said. “Of course it doesn’t hurt that the country music world is also centered there.”
Wisconsin counters that the 2024 convention, like the last three Republican conventions, should be in a crucial swing state. Boosters are seizing the opportunity, with Democrats like Crowley taking the field alongside Republican US Senator Ron Johnson and Reince Priebus – a former Trump White House chief of staff and former RNC chief.
Milwaukee is also presenting itself as turnkey thanks to its work on landing the 2020 Democratic convention, although that ended up mostly online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, Wisconsin’s polarized politics are evident even amid the bipartisan push.
Trump unsuccessfully campaigned to disqualify thousands of Milwaukee voters in 2020, falsely portraying late returns caused by high turnout due to absenteeism as fraud.
The city’s top election official, Claire Woodall-Vogg, tweeted in mid-March that if Milwaukee gets Congress, she would be working remotely this week “so I don’t get hung in the town square as some have threatened.” Three days after posting this message, she deleted her Twitter account.
Woodall-Vogg told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that her tweet was “a poor attempt at dark humor as I receive death threats fueled by the 2020 presidential election.” Like other conflicting Democrats, she said she would welcome the convention for its positive economic impact.
“It’s a polarizing convention,” said Milwaukee Senator Tim Carpenter. “Anytime Donald Trump is in the party, it becomes a very polarizing convention.”
Peggy Williams-Smith, who worked on the city’s bid as director of the city’s tourism office, said the meeting should address the economic impact on the city, state and region.
“That’s not red or blue to me, it’s green,” Williams-Smith said.
The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. has struck the same tone, saying her job is to book conventions “without bias” and noting that she has also run for the Democratic convention, both at the request of GOP Gov. Bill Lee.
Mayor John Cooper, a Democrat, this year watched as Republicans divided the city three ways during the redistricting, a move aimed at improving their chances of changing a Democratic congressional seat and one that Cooper’s brother , caused US Rep. Jim Cooper to not be reelected.
John Cooper told The Associated Press there was “a whole lot of homework” to do about hotel rooms and security concerns. He said the RNC is likely getting “a little sticker shock” about how much Nashville hotels cost. He promised that “we will not expect our hospitality industry to suffer a loss for this.”
Cooper said it was a “different burden” to have all the convention facilities downtown. He said the Nashville police had to “feel really good about it for the application to go ahead.”
Tennessee’s governor and GOP lawmakers can use state funds to pay Congress if Nashville is selected.
Some Nashville Democrats say the event is not worth it politically or practically.
State Assemblyman John Ray Clemmons fears there will be costs to local government and the closure of parts of a city that will still attract visitors. The policy also makes no sense, he said.
“This is a beautiful, growing and welcoming city,” said Clemmons. “And our city stands for everything they reject.”
Political scientist David Schultz of Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, is not convinced that the venue will give Republicans a boost. He examined convention venues from World War II onwards and found no evidence of an effect on the outcome of races.
“There’s this political wisdom out there that placing a congress in a state will either flip the state from a Democrat to a Republican or vice versa, or really energize the grassroots in some way,” Schultz said. “On the whole, that’s not possible.”
Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin and Mattise from Nashville, Tennessee.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.