This morning, the Democratic National Committee announced that they had selected Milwaukee as the host city for the 2020 Democratic convention, launching a thousand jokes that “finally, Hillary Clinton will visit Wisconsin.” Republicans announced in July that they would hold their 2020 convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Political-media types love to dissect the selection of host cities, with a lot of speculation about whether it gives a party a leg up in winning the host state, but there’s little evidence that the selection of a host city has any real impact on which candidate wins that state. Last cycle, the Republicans picked Cleveland and the Democrats picked Philadelphia, and Trump won both states. (Republicans won both Senate races in those states that year, too.) Four years earlier, the Democrats picked Charlotte, and the Republicans picked Tampa. Romney narrowly won North Carolina, Obama won Florida. Four years before that, Democrats picked Denver, Republicans picked Saint Paul; Obama won both Colorado and Minnesota. Four years before that, Republicans picked New York City, Democrats picked Boston. John Kerry won both New York and Massachusetts. In 2000, Republicans picked Philadelphia and Democrats picked Los Angeles, and Al Gore won both Pennsylvania and California.
On the margins, hosting a convention can do some good for getting volunteers organized and maybe generating some enthusiasm. Often the selection of the city involves a bit of symbolism, and usually they’re in a competitive swing state. Last cycle’s picks indicated how both parties put a high priority on winning the “Rust Belt”/Upper Midwest.
There was a time when hosting a national political convention was a chance for a city to showcase itself, on par with hosting a Super Bowl or bidding for the Olympics. In the post-9/11 era, with worries about security and the ubiquitous presence of protesters and cops in riot gear, it’s less fun. (Both Cleveland and Philadelphia handled everything about as well as can be expected in 2016.)
The less-discussed question about selecting a city is whether it is large enough to handle the influx of 50,000 visitors (including about 20,000 media, all looking for a story to tell), about 5,000 delegates, every major political figure in a party, tons of high-level movers and shakers and celebrities, many of whom will have mini-motorcades and entourages and their own personal security details. The big question for organizers is how many hotel rooms do you have available, how far away are they from the convention site, how difficult is it to get around, how many fancy restaurants and other venues can host parties, and how many police can you gather from surrounding jurisdictions to provide extra manpower. (The local airport has to be ready to handle a giant influx, as well.) Weather can be a factor; the Republicans had to cancel one night of festivities in Tampa in 2012 over concerns about Hurricane Isaac.
Milwaukee’s weaknesses were always its size and the perception that it wasn’t ready to handle a huge event like this. The city is the 30th largest metropolitan area in the country; Charlotte is 21st-largest. The Democrats are coming, Milwaukee. Get ready.