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Conventional wisdom: RNC site is no assurance of success in fall

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Balloons and confetti descending at the conclusion of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

This week’s Republican Convention in Cleveland has, despite its bumps, raised the hopes of the GOP for victory in the election this fall of its presidential  nominee, Donald Trump.

Another Republican hope, that holding its conclave in Ohio will augment the party’s chances to prevail in the election there this fall, also may be misplaced, a lesson that is familiar here in Minnesota. 

Ohio clearly is a crucial state for both parties, especially the GOP, which has never won a presidential campaign without carrying that state. But the likelihood that holding its convention in that state will augment its chances to capture the state’s 18 electoral votes in November is belied by history. 

In 2012, both parties lost the states where their national conventions were held. Florida, where the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney, narrowly went for President Barack Obama, while the Republican candidate captured the votes of North Carolina, where the Democrats convened to re-nominate the president.

Similarly, in 2008, the Republicans faltered here in Minnesota, where John McCain was nominated in the convention at the Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul, before going on to lose the state resoundingly to then-Sen. Obama. Incidentally, the only other time Minnesota held a national convention, 1892, the same result occurred. The Republicans met in Minneapolis, nominated President Benjamin Harrison for re-election, but he lost to Democrat Grover Cleveland, the only president elected to two non-consecutive terms.

The same was true for the two conventions that nominated George W. Bush for the presidency. In 2000, the Republicans convened in Philadelphia, and nominated the Texas governor, but he did not carry the keystone state in the fall. Four years later, in 2004, the Republicans re-nominated President Bush at this conclave in New York City, playing off of the emotions of the 9-11 terrorist attack. But it was to no avail in the fall, when John Kerry captured the state. In 1996, Bob Dole failed to carry California after the GOP convention was held in San Diego, losing the election to President Clinton. Thus, Republicans have lost states where they held their conventions for the past 20 years, five election cycles.

The GOP was much more successful in prevailing in states where their conventions were held before then, primarily because the conventions were held in states in Republican strongholds. 

Ronald Reagan was nominated for re-election in Texas, which he easily carried in November of 1984. Vice President George H.W. Bush was nominated as his successor at the Super Dome in Louisiana in 1988, and he carried that state on his way to electoral victory. Four years later, then President Bush was nominated in his home state of Texas, and won the state, although losing the election in the fall to then-Gov. Bill Clinton.

The Democrats, for their part, have fared much better in winning states where their conventions were held. The Obama nomination by the Democrats in 2008 in Denver precipitated his narrow victory in Colorado in the fall. In 2004, John Kerry was nominated in his native Massachusetts, which he carried, and Al Gore carried California in 2000 after being nominated in Los Angeles. Before that, Bill Clinton won both of the states where he was nominated, New York in 1992 and Illinois four years later. 

Marshall H. Tanick
MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband
Marshall H. Tanick

Thus, the experience of the two parties is vastly different: The Republicans in recent times have lost the states where their conventions were held, while the Democrats have tended to prevail in those places where they have convened. This pattern is not universal and there have been a few twists and turns.

A couple of times, both parties met in the same state, indeed the same places for their conventions. In 1952, the Republicans nominated Dwight Eisenhower in Chicago and the Democrats then picked Adlai Stevenson in the same city, with Ike prevailing in the fall. Twenty years later, both parties convened in Miami, where President Richard M. Nixon was nominated for re-election and handily defeated the Democratic nominee, George McGovern.

In one of the most memorable elections, the 1960 contest between John F. Kennedy and , both parties lost the states where their parties convened. John F. Kennedy was nominated in Los Angeles, but California went for its native son, the incumbent Vice President Nixon, who had been nominated in Chicago, which narrowly voted that fall for JFK.

Speaking of historical trends, the GOP convention chair, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, reportedly harbors a desire to run for president someday.

Alas, the odds are against the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate on Mitt Romney’s ticket in 2012. No one who has been a veep candidate on a losing ticket has ever won a subsequent race for president, as can be attested to by Minnesota’s Walter Mondale, who lost in 1984 after being part of Jimmy Carter’s unsuccessful re-election bid in 1980, and Bob Dole, who lost for president in 1996, 20 years and four presidents after being part of Gerald Ford’s losing campaign in 1976.

These tendencies are not immutable, and this year, more than others, has been a year of unprecedented and unpredictable developments in both parties. But, if the past is prologue, the future may be futility for the Republicans carrying Ohio, which bodes badly for them in the fall election.

On the other hand, Hilary Clinton will be nominated at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia at the end of the month, an important swing state with 20 electoral votes that, the Democrats hope to carry, as they have since 1992. History gives them a better chance of doing so than their opponents. 

As for the Libertarians, they nominated Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor in Orlando, Florida, a state that he is unlikely to carry. Nominated in Orlando, Florida, a city which has had more than its share of troubles since then, or any other one, although his vote total could be decisive in the final count in a number of other states.

Marshall H. Tanick is an attorney with the Twin Cities law firm Hellmuth & Johnson.


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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/23/2016 - 07:10 am.

    That holding a convention in a particular state helps the nominee in that state is just one of those things many people say, and no one believes. Conventions, like stadiums, like Shriner conventions, are beneficial to a very few who have got to say something to gain the support of the broader population who generally have no interest in the matter, one way or the other.

  2. Submitted by Mark Liebow on 07/25/2016 - 10:39 pm.

    One losing VP candidate became President later

    Franklin Roosevelt lost as the Vice Presidential candidate in 1920 and was elected President in 1932.

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