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Dems, GOP set sights on Phoenix for 2012 conventions

Democrats and Republicans already are scoping out sites for their 2012 national conventions, and this time around Phoenix is on both parties’ short lists.

The fact that both sides are looking at Phoenix highlights Arizona’s future prominence on the electoral landscape. Democrats consider the state a pickup opportunity, and Republicans hope to make inroads among Hispanic voters. Arizona traditionally votes Republican and has not been considered a swing state since the Clinton administration.

The Democratic National Committee has sent introductory letters to dozens of cities, including Phoenix, Tampa, Charlotte, Memphis, Houston and St. Louis, according to sources.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee has sent their own letters to about 30 cities, inviting them to attend meetings at RNC headquarters, where city representatives will learn what it takes to become a finalist. Already, 10 cities have met with RNC officials.

An RNC spokeswoman refused to confirm whether Phoenix was among those 10 cities, but other Republican sources said it is among the cities that will be considered in 2012.

Any city competing for a national convention spot will need a large number of hotel rooms and convention space, plus a strong security plan in place for convention week.

A convention planning committee will need to raise millions – the committee in charge of putting on the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver raised more than $50 million. But those efforts pay off in spades; Denver officials estimated the city earned the equivalent of more than $100 million in advertising from the convention, with millions more in tax revenue pouring in from delegates and guests.

A report commissioned for the host committee for the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 2008 estimated that the city benefited from $168 million in direct and indirect economic impact.

Both parties are in the infant stages of selecting their sites. RNC Chairman Michael Steele has appointed members of the party’s site-selection committee, those who will be tasked with visiting each city to evaluate the locations. The committee is packed with close Steele allies; it is considered one of the juicier perks a chairman has to reward his backers.

Meanwhile, Democrats have not even picked a selection committee.

Neither party has ever held their conventions in Phoenix, but with 57,000 hotel rooms spread across nearly 500 hotels, according to the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the city could be attractive to either party.

Thanks to Sky Harbor International Airport, a major hub for both US Airways and Southwest Airlines, and arenas like the US Airways Center and Jobing.com Arena, both of which could accommodate up to 20,000 attendees, and the massive University of Phoenix stadium, the city appears, initially, as one of the more promising venues for a party seeking a well-prepared location.

Choosing Phoenix could have political benefits too, as both parties are likely to focus on Arizona as a key battleground state in the 2012 presidential elections. Growth among Hispanic and younger voters has fueled Democratic wins lately; Arizona has nearly double the Hispanic population of the U.S. at large, according to Census estimates, and the population is more than a year-and-a-half younger than the national average.

Republicans who want to keep the state in their column could decide that a convention is the best way to reach out to Arizona voters, who have showed more interest in getting involved, as well. In 2008, nearly 56 percent of Arizona voters cast a ballot, higher than the 53 percent who turned out in 2004, and the 45 percent who voted in 2000 and 1996, according to statistics compiled by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University.

Even with home-state Sen. John McCain, a Republican, on the ballot in 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign spent money on advertisements in the final weeks. McCain won his state by a small 53 percent to 45 percent margin, far less than the margin former President George W. Bush scored in his home state of Texas.

The White House has taken note of the possibility that Arizona’s electoral votes could break their way when President Obama runs for re-election in 2012.
One senior White House official, refusing to be named discussing political strategy, pointed to the state’s demographics and the narrow margin by which Obama lost there in 2008, calling it the Democrats’ natural step toward expansion.

-Reid Wilson is editor of Hotline OnCall in Washington D.C. He also is a regular contributor to the Arizona Capitol Times.

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