The Republican Party will pick its 2016 presidential nominee in Cleveland, a smart choice for the next national convention, some analysts say.
The city of 390,000 along the southern shore of Lake Erie — 125 miles from Pittsburgh — is a Democratic stronghold in a battleground state for presidential elections. A Republican National Committee panel on Tuesday chose Cleveland over Dallas for the convention, a decision the 168-member RNC is expected to finalize next month.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said a date for the convention hasn’t been selected, though he wants to schedule it in early summer to give the nominee more time to access general-election cash.
"Ohio and Cleveland are at the political epicenter of American politics, and I can’t think of a better place to host our convention in 2016," Priebus told the Tribune-Review. He said the city persuaded organizers by demonstrating "an energy and excitement that was unmatched."
Though officials typically consider a city’s transportation and hotel plans, paying for the convention was the top criterion for the 12-member site selection committee. The previous two GOP conventions sapped party dollars, and Priebus insisted the host city help with picking up an anticipated $60 million tab. In its proposal, Cleveland pledged to raise tens of millions of dollars required to pay for the weeklong party rally.
Republican campaign consultant Ed Rollins told FoxNews Channel it’s "a bad choice."
"Cleveland is the heart of Democrats in Ohio. It’s a heavily union city. It’s an overwhelming margin (Republicans) have to make up for everywhere else," Rollins said.
Others consider Cleveland a wise choice, particularly because it is transforming from a manufacturing base that lost population and thousands of jobs to a hub for health care facilities, technological companies and medical device producers.
"This is great news for Northeast Ohio," said Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor. "There’s no question Cleveland is now in the middle of a historic renaissance."
The county has nearly 1.3 million people — more than 60 percent white and 30 percent black — and median household income of $43,861, Census figures show. Republican Gov. John Kasich praised the planners, who included aides to FitzGerald and Democratic Mayor Frank Jackson, for tirelessly working to win the convention.
"They left no stone unturned," Kasich said during a campaign stop in Hamilton.
Kasich, who grew up in McKees Rocks, told the Trib in a recent interview that Cleveland and Pittsburgh are among cities people tend to underestimate. "Putting the spotlight on Cleveland puts the city on everyone’s radar," he said.
Cleveland hosted the Republican National Convention at least twice before, in 1924 and 1936.
Pittsburgh in early June dropped its idea to bid for the Democratic National Convention in 2016, citing financial concerns. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Mayor Bill Peduto threw their support behind a proposal to bring the convention to Philadelphia.
The Democrats haven’t said where they’ll convene but will begin site visits on July 21 in Birmingham, Ala.
Party conventions have potential to considerably boost the economy of a host city. Tampa, which hosted the GOP in 2012, said afterward that the convention drew more than 50,000 people, and that its $58 million in fundraising added $214 million into the greater Tampa area.
Republican Rep. Jim Renacci, a Donora native who represents Ohio’s 16th Congressional District, said the RNC can point to the region’s natural resources and reputation for a strong work ethic as a party platform.
"If I was running for president, I’d want the heart of the Rust Belt as the host city," said Renacci, who will challenge Democrat Pete Crossland in November.
Renacci, whose district touches Cleveland’s southern and western suburbs, said the city has a great story to tell about renewal.
"The Republican convention should be a platform on jobs, the new economy, and energy — and Cleveland and Ohio tell that story," he said. "Not that much different than Pittsburgh, who is a bit ahead of us on technology."
John Weaver, a Washington-based Republican strategist, said convening in Cleveland could give the party "a great opportunity to showcase successful Republican policies that have lifted the economies in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and other vital battleground states."
But Weaver cautioned that’s if the event is "done correctly — a big if, considering how some of our most recent conventions were managed."
Organizers eliminated bids from Denver; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City; Las Vegas and Phoenix. Dallas remained a competitor in part because of wealthy donors with ties to the Bush family and oil industry. Dallas hosted the 1984 Republican convention, and Texas is considered a reliably GOP state in presidential elections.
Presidential campaigns are hard-fought in Ohio. No Republican has captured the White House without Ohio since Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The last candidate to win the presidency without carrying Ohio was John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, in 1960.
Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at [email protected] The Associated Press contributed to this report.