- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

Two U.S. cities that rarely get a chance to shine on the global stage are gleefully gearing to go down in history, and on the way pocket millions of dollars from thousands of convention visitors.

This year the Republican and Democratic parties opted to hold their nominating conventions to anoint their standard-bearer for the 2008 presidential elections far from the country’s more well-known metropolises.

Instead Denver (population 580,000, nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains) and St. Paul, Minn., (population 270,000, on the far northern banks of the Mississippi River) are sharing the honors.

And with the tidal wave of interest the 2008 White House race has triggered around the globe, both cities are hoping to cash in for many years to come.

“This is a huge opportunity for us to showcase our community,” St. Paul Mayor Christopher Coleman told Agence France-Presse, adding that international exposure “is critically important for future development.”

His city will play host to the Republicans for four days beginning Sept. 1, with about 45,000 delegates, visitors and journalists expected to flock into the area, generating some $160 million in direct and indirect income.

“It’s not money that’s shifting from one part of the community to the other; it’s really money that’s being brought into this region from outside,” he said, adding the figures were conservatively based on the economic uptick registered by Boston after the 2000 convention.

It is the first time the city, the hometown of “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz, has ever hosted a political party convention, and the logistics of ensuring a smooth coronation for Republican pick Sen. John McCain have been formidable.

Every detail has had to be worked out - from transport to security involving about 80 law-enforcement agencies including the Secret Service to accommodating tens of thousands of people.

Denver, which grew out of the 19th-century gold rush and last hosted a convention in 1908, also has spent some two years planning for the four-day Democratic meet beginning Aug. 25.

The authorities thought they had it all covered, until the surprise announcement last week that White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would make his acceptance speech Aug. 28 before 76,000 people at the city’s Ivesco football stadium.

“Denver is the country’s most isolated city. We are 600 miles from the nearest city of any size, in a time zone that most people don’t even know exists and we tend to get passed over,” said Rich Grant, communications director for the city’s Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Now suddenly amid Obama-mania, the city, which works on Mountain Time, two hours behind Eastern Time, is in the international spotlight and also hoping to attract about $160 million in extra income.

“Denver has already received more press than it has ever had before,” Mr. Grant said, having featured in a myriad of magazines from in-flight publications to glossy gossip magazines such as OK.

And with the world clamoring to bear witness to history as Mr. Obama becomes the first black ever to be the presidential candidate of a major party and to have a real shot at the White House, the interest is set to grow.

Jerry Gallegos, superintendent of the House of Representatives press gallery, who has overseen media arrangements for every convention since 1972, says he has never seen anything like it.

Of the 15,000 journalists accredited to cover the two conventions, about half are from overseas and many from countries which have never before been represented.

Journalists from Kenya, the birthplace of Mr. Obama’s father, as well as Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia where he spent part of his childhood, will this year swell the traditional media pack.

“This will be one of the most historic conventions ever,” Mr. Gallegos said.

And when Mr. Obama makes his acceptance speech on a late summer’s night, on the 45th anniversary of the “I have a dream” speech by civil rights leader Martin Luther King, he will seal Denver’s place in the history books.

“Unless something goes very, very wrong, this convention will be about one speech made in one stadium, and with millions of TVs across America in full DVR mode,” wrote columnist Mike Littwin in the local Rocky Mountain News.



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