Dem Convention Contention: 2000

While Denver’s bid to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention is being hampered by labor union issues, contenders in past years have faced other hurdles such as a shortage of hotel rooms, not enough convention space and disadvantages in the political climate. Sometimes these cities have snagged the bid, other times they’ve lost out. This is the fifth in a series looking back at past battles to hold the national conventions.

Denver’s first real fight to host a national party convention began nearly a decade ago when Mayor Wellington Webb and other city leaders tried to lure the Democrats West for their 2000 convention. From the start, Denver saw itself as a capable long shot. When talk of the bid began in 1997, Colorado was still safely GOP territory, but Webb and Denver’s bid chairman, Mike Dino, tried to position the state – and the West – as prime battleground.

Denver’s then-new airport and Pepsi Center allowed the city to make a respectable bid competing against front runners Boston, L.A. and Philadelphia as well as fellow underdogs Portland, Cleveland and Minneapolis.

Boston made a strong case out of the gate, but they city had several strikes against it. Logistically, its Fleet Center was deemed to small, and the landscape was blighted by Big Dig construction. Politically, there was little ground to be gained by holding a convention in New England. And, it didn’t help that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry was testing the waters for a primary run against expected nominee Al Gore.

New Orleans was also making a pitch to host the convention, but the city was wary to come in second, as it had to Chicago in 1996 and to New York in 1992. L.A. was favored by many from the start, partly because of California’s 54 electoral votes. Philadelphia persevered after the DNC site committee’s visit was delayed by a city-wide transit strike.

Meanwhile, Denver reminded committee members of Pope John Paul II’s successful 1993 visit. City boosters talked often, as they’ve been lately, about the Democrat’s 1908 convention in the Mile High City. Plus, Denver had people in high places. Governor Roy Romer was co-chair of the DNC.

Denver’s bid of $28.2 million worth of services and cash put it in the middle of the pack financially. Philadelphia bid $30 million, L.A. offered $35.3 million and Miami topped the list with a proposal worth $40 million.

By fall, 1998, Philly and L.A. were considered the favorites. But, after the GOP chose Philadelphia for its convention site (thereby knocking it out of the running for the Dems’), Boston, Denver and L.A. were named as finalists. Soon, the selection committee decided Boston’s and Denver’s logistical problems outweighed any political advantages. L.A. was given the nod to host the Democrats’ millennium convention.

Message for Denver: During Boston’s quest for the 2000 convention, Thomas Oliphant wrote in the Boston Globe:

If you want the Republicans to come to town, you have to tell them about hotel rooms, cabs, upfront local money, host committees, and easy transportation. Once in a while, you need to tell them you’re in a critical state.

But if you want the Democrats in the Bill Clinton-Al Gore era to come, that stuff just gets you in the door, and the critical state talk is not really important.

If you want the Democrats to hold their national convention in your town – as Boston fervently, and plausibly, does – it may make the critical difference if you can give them a political plot, a story line that has the Electoral College at its core.

In 1998, Dino tried to do just that. In making Denver’s pitch, he said, “We are a battleground, and our message is, ‘Don’t give up on the West like the Democrats once gave up on the South.'” Back then, with a newly elected Republican governor, two Republican Senators (now that Ben Nighthorse Campbell had switched parties) and a Republican majority in Congress, it might have been hard to see Denver as an effective place to jump start a run for the non-California West’s 58 electoral votes. Six short years later, however, Dino’s message is much more likely to resonate. Colorado now has a Democratic governor (almost), legislature, Senator and majority of representatives. If a takeover of the West is on national Democrats’ 2008 agenda, then Denver is the logical staging ground. If history is any indication, that political advantage will trump pesky problems with money and unions.

Read about the competitions for the national conventions in ’92, ’96,’88 and the GOP in 2000.

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Kerri Rebresh

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