Cincy, Cleveland, Columbus make RNC convention cut

Julie Carr Smyth, AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s three largest cities — Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus — have been named finalists in the competition to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus named the three among the party’s eight finalists Thursday on Twitter. They join Denver, Dallas, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

It’s the first time in modern memory that all three have bid to host the convention in the same year, with Cincinnati’s bid coming in just under the wire of a Wednesday deadline.

Former longtime Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett says he’d like to see the perennial swing state chosen.

“Not in all my time in politics I don’t ever recall three (Ohio) cities bidding at the same time,” Bennett said. “I’m in favor of it coming to the Midwest anyway, because Ohio is a battleground state.”

Party and city officials in the three Ohio metropolises are counting on the state’s pivotal role in electing presidents to boost the chances that the party will pick one of their cities for its biggest event.

No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio, and it’s been half a century since a Democrat — John F. Kennedy — won the presidency without Ohio.

The state also is known as “the mother of presidents,” with eight to its name.

“Ohio is the right state for a lot of reasons,” said Ohio’s Republican U.S.

Sen. Rob Portman, who spoke at the 2012 convention and is considered a possible 2016 national-ticket contender. “One is, we are a classic swing state. Often the election hinges on what happens in Ohio.”

It’s clear “the road to the White House runs through Ohio,” Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges said, pledging his party’s support to land a bid for any one of the cities. “Not only does Ohio have three world-class cities capable of hosting a national convention, but bringing one here would put our candidate and party’s message directly in front of voters,” he said in a statement.

Landing a convention also is a potential boon to tourism for any host city, bringing visitors and attention to the area surrounding the event.

“It’s tremendous publicity for the host city, not only nationally but internationally,” Bennett said. “It would help economic development statewide if an Ohio city is chosen.”

With all three in the running, Ohio’s chances of hosting are heightened, though Las Vegas is widely considered the front-runner.

Representatives from the cities will make presentations at the site selection meeting in Washington on Monday.

RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney said the panel will announce by mid-March the sites it will visit and name a narrowed list of finalists in late spring after making the visits. The full Republican National Committee will cast ballots for the host city in late summer or early fall.

Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, told supporters in an email Wednesday that Cincinnati’s bid has bipartisan and nonpartisan support. It also has the backing of political and business leaders in neighboring northern Kentucky.

The Cincinnati group has been promoting the role of Hamilton County, in southwestern Ohio, as a pivotal area in the swing state. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Hamilton County since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and he won it again in 2012 to help him take Ohio a second time.

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman has been aggressively pitching the state’s capital city as a national convention venue both to Republicans and to fellow Democrats.

Members of both parties launched a joint effort in November — Columbus 2016 — aimed at landing one of the conventions for Columbus, which has never hosted.

The group estimated that landing a convention could mean as many as 45,000 visitors — 15,000 of them U.S. and international media — and $150 million to $200 million for the city’s economy.

Ohio has hosted five national political conventions. Democrats held theirs in Cincinnati in 1856 and 1880, and Republicans held theirs in Cincinnati in 1876 and in Cleveland in 1924 and 1936.

Bennett is from Cleveland and touted its newly renovated convention center and a major convention hotel slated for completion in early 2016 as assets. But he said he and other top GOP officials in the state are remaining officially neutral.

JULIE CARR SMYTH, Associated Press