Republicans place their bet

ST. PAUL. — In a surprise move, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has chosen the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis for its 2008 national convention. (The convention itself will take place in St. Paul.) The only other major national political convention ever held here was in 1892 when the Republicans met in Minneapolis to renominate President Benjamin Harrison (who subsequently lost in a rematch with former President Grover Cleveland).

Part of the surprise was the previous anticipation that it would be the Democrats who would choose the Twin Cities. In fact, leading Minnesota Democrats confirmed that it was all but certain that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) would select the Twin Cities, and that conversations with DNC Chairman Howard Dean were taking place the morning of the GOP announcement, with a final decision expected in a matter of days.

There is little doubt that part of the motivation for the RNC’s sudden move was to forestall the Democrats from choosing St. Paul, which is the capital city of Minnesota and at the center of the new political superstate of “Minnewisowa” — Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. These three contiguous states have a combined total of 28 electoral votes, similar demographics, overlapping media markets and for several recent cycles been battleground states which could be won by either major party. Now the Democrats will have to choose between Denver and New York, probably less-than-ideal sites in 2008 for them.

Republicans, in choosing Minnesota, may have their eyes not only on 2008 but on 2006 as well. Incumbent GOP Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is in trouble for re-election. Retiring GOP Rep. Mark Kennedy trails his Democratic (DFL) opponent for the open Senate seat (now held by a Democrat). Although the GOP is likely to retain all of its four present House seats, at least one of them could be vulnerable if their were a Democratic tide this year. Landing the upcoming Republican national convention will likely invigorate the local Republican get-out-the-vote effort this November, and could be a factor in the state’s close elections this year.

The downside of this choice for the GOP is that both Minneapolis and St. Paul are very liberal and heavily DFL cities with partisan DFL mayors. Inner-city radical groups are sophisticated and persistent demonstrators, and will undoubtedly be out in force to protest against President Bush and the Republicans who gather in the Twin Cities in 2008.

A second problem for convention organizers will be logistical. There are a limited number of hotel rooms in the two downtowns, especially in St. Paul. Delegates and media may find themselves housed in motels beyond the suburbs. The Xcel Center (home of the Minnesota NHL hockey team) is adjoined by the St. Paul Convention Center, so there are excellent facilities for the convention itself. The Twin Cities airport is one of the nation’s largest, and a new light-rail system brings passengers from the airport terminal to downtown Minneapolis. (A second line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul has not yet been built.)

The Mall of America and the numerous nationally known museums and theaters should provide conventioneers with plenty to do in their free time. The Twin Cities have hosted two World Series, a Super Bowl, U.S. Opens, Final Four tournaments and several large national conventions, but the influx of thousands of GOP delegates and alternates plus thousands of national and international media personnel will be a new test of its special-event capabilities.

Minneapolis is currently enduring a noticeable rise in crime, and several neighborhoods near the center of the city are unsafe at night. Police forces in both St. Paul and Minneapolis are understaffed. Confronted by local and out-of-state protesters, public safety and security officials will need additional funds and personnel during the convention.

Of course, these challenges have been faced by convention cities in the past, and would confront any convention city in 2008. If the DFL wins both houses of the state legislature and the governorship (something quite possible), it would mean that the Republicans would depend almost entirely on state Democratic officials, as well as the two liberal DFL mayors, for a safe, orderly and successful convention. Any lingering resentment from the oneupmanship of the RNC is beating the Democrats to the Twin Cities national convention site could be a problem.

On the other hand, Minnesota has a long tradition of hospitality and graciousness, and the significant revenues from so many tourists would likely outweigh partisan negatives.

Considering that 2008 will be a presidential election year, with no incumbent president or vice president running and both parties competitive, the GOP convention in St. Paul should be especially fascinating, and it will mark the ultimate recognition of the significance of “Minnewisowa” in the historic contest that will follow.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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