One of the costs for Republicans of siting their 2016 convention in Cleveland is putting up with local Democratic snark over the choice. The campaign of Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic candidate for governor this year, was quick to send out a press release that exulted: “By picking Cleveland, Republicans are recognizing the hard work of Ed and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in turning the city and county around.” The release went on to say that having the convention will have “pitfalls” for the city: “It means lots of tricorn hats, Sarah Palin t-shirts, and Rush Limbaugh ditto-heads filling up downtown Cleveland.”
Republicans dismiss such jibes and say they are making a bold move for the 2016 election by picking Cleveland. “We’re going where the swing voters are,” Republican strategist Mike Murphy crowed to Politico. Indeed, Ohio is a crucial swing state and every modern Republican president had to win the state on the way to the White House.
But playing the geography card of hosting a national convention as a platform for a party’s messaging doesn’t usually work. Republicans held their 2012 convention in Florida and lost the state that fall. Democrats held theirs in Charlotte, N.C., and saw Barack Obama, who won the state in 2008, lose it to Mitt Romney that fall.
And Cleveland may hold other disappointments for the Republicans. It is a heavily unionized town, and the GOP can expect massive protests by union-backed left-wingers as well as price gouging.
Then there is corruption for which Cleveland has become famous as a sort of Louisiana North. In 2012, after a local county commissioner and Democratic party chief named Jimmy Dimore was sentenced to 28 years in prison, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist
Mark Naymik lamented that voters had lost interest in seeing that county politics was reformed.
“The members of the public who attend the new [city] council’s twice monthly meeting could fit inside a food truck, ” Naymik wrote. “Even fewer follow committee meetings where the real debates take place.”
Certainly there will be a lot of public money available for siphoning into murky pockets in the two years leading up to the convention. The city is pitching in $5 million in public subsidies and FitzGerald’s Cuyahoga County is matching that. GOP governor John Kasich is pledging $10 million from a state jobs agency.
Cleveland has made strides in recent years, with a growing health-care sector and a brighter downtown. It’s no longer “the mistake on the lake” that its critics used to deride it as. But I’m yet to be convinced that Republicans made the right choice in putting geography ahead of logistics in siting their convention.