WASHINGTON—Minnesota's emergence as a presidential battleground state paid off Wednesday when the Republican Party announced that it had chosen Minneapolis and St. Paul to host its 2008 National Convention.
The Twin Cities beat three other finalists: New York, Cleveland and Tampa, Fla. It will be the first time the Twin Cities have hosted a national convention since 1892, when Republicans nominated Benjamin Harrison for president.
The convention is scheduled for Sept. 1-4, 2008, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, a week after Democrats nominate their candidate. The Twin Cities also had been competing against New York and Denver to host the Democratic convention, but that bid is now dead.
"We want to congratulate the Twin Cities. ... We are looking forward to working with Denver and New York as we make our final decision," said Stacie Paxton, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.
Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Jo Ann Davidson said the GOP chose the Twin Cities in a voice vote of the nine-member selection committee. She declined to disclose the final tally but said "it was not unanimous." The deciding factor, she said, wasn't politics, but rather logistics such as arenas, work space, transportation, security and the number of hotel rooms.
"This was a strictly business decision on our part," she said. "The committee decided that Minneapolis was the best choice."
RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman credited the Twin Cities' bipartisan host committee, but particularly Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor, who faces his first re-election bid in 2008.
"The house that Norm built is likely to be the place where the next president of the United States is introduced to the American people," Mehlman said.
Coleman said he was thrilled by the decision, saying it would "showcase Minnesota to a worldwide audience."
"When we built the Xcel Energy Center, we dreamed of bringing hockey back to Minnesota, but never the Super Bowl of politics," he said.
The GOP's decision, expected to be ratified in January by the party's national committee, drew an angry response from some Democrats, who expected their national convention to be in the Twin Cities.
Rick Stafford, a member of the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee from Minneapolis, said negotiations set for next week "would have pretty much cemented the deal." He said the GOP's decision showed that Republicans "cannot keep their honor in the site-selection process." He said as the non-incumbent party, the Democrats should have chosen their site first in keeping with tradition.
"It just follows their whole scorched-earth ... philosophy that's running true to form this year," said Stafford, adding that "all the signals" indicated that Republicans were going to allow Democrats to choose their site first. He speculated that word got out that Democrats wanted the Twin Cities and that local Republicans pressured the RNC to act quickly if it wanted to nail down the Twin Cities as its site.
"I'm kind of angry about it," Stafford said. "I mean, all is fair in love and war and politics, but I think it sets a tone: Are we going to go through this every four years now, this kind of game?"
Republicans rejected Stafford's arguments, noting that they picked first when they took their convention to New York in 2004.
"Quite frankly, that's nonsense," Davidson said. "I have no idea what tradition they're discussing."
In Minnesota, city officials seemed inclined to put politics aside in favor of local boosterism.
"What this confirms to us is that the Twin Cities can compete with any region in the country, any city in the country, " said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, a Democrat. "We're going to host this convention in grand scale."
Civic boosters say landing a national political convention could bring 20,000 people and $150 million to the Twin Cities metro area. That will include thousands of journalists and media organizations from around the world. Some 95 hotels in Bloomington, Minneapolis and St. Paul are expected to hold an estimated 17,000 delegates, donors and staff.
Analysts said the GOP's choice will allow the party to capitalize on major media markets in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, three states that figured prominently in the 2004 election.
"The Midwest has become strategic ground," said David Schultz, who teaches politics at the Hamline University in St. Paul. "Bring the convention here, get the faithful excited and spotlight that you care about the Midwest and farmers."
Schultz said it's also a "symbolic black eye" to Minnesota Democrats trying to keep alive the spirit of Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone.
"It's a purple state now, and Republicans increasingly view this as a winnable state," he said.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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