Well before the opening gavel and way beyond the final benediction, here are three things we can say about the next two weeks of national party conventions.
First, if indeed all politics are local, so too is the revenue generated from these political spectacles.
The Republican National Committee predicts $200 million in direct spending for Cleveland – in the same league as Tampa’s windfall back in 2012. Its counterpart, the Democratic National Committee, sees a $350 million influx for Philadelphia. That may be wishful thinking: the Democrats’ 2012 convention in Charlotte generated about $163.6 million in total sales revenue.
Second, if recent history is a fair barometer, at least one of the nominees should manage a “bounce” in his or her poll numbers.
After Charlotte, President Obama went from 47% to 50% approval among registered voters, per Gallup. Mitt Romney didn’t receive a post-Tampa boost. In 2008, Obama picked up four points; John McCain gained six. In 2004, George W. Bush gained two points, while John Kerry regressed a point.
If Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both underachieve these next two weeks: dubious history indeed.
Third, conventions aren’t real estate. The mantra “location, location, location” doesn’t apply.
The Republicans are in Cleveland next week for one reason: a gamble that four days along the shores of Lake Erie will generate the sort of good kind that will improve Trump’s chances of earning Ohio’s must-have 18 electoral votes.
But here’s the rub: the last time a GOP ticket carried the state that hosted the party’s national convention: 1992, when Republicans convened in Houston, Texas, the hometown of former President George H.W. Bush. In every election since, each city that’s hosted GOP convention — San Diego, Philadelphia, New York City, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Tampa — have failed to deliver.
It’s the Democrats who have a better record over the same six-convention span. But that’s largely due to an accident of geography: the Democrats opted for big cities – New York City, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles – in big blue states.
Yes, there’s one exception: the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Obama breezed to a nine-point win in Colorado.
However, other swing states have been swing-and-miss propositions. North Carolina voted Republican in 2012 despite Democrats targeting Charlotte. Florida went to Obama – narrowly, by less than a point – despite the GOP’s tithe to the Tampa-St. Pete economy.
Here’s the problem with 2016’s conventions. The parties chose arguably two of the five most important states in this election – no accident there. Yet both sides have come up with a program not necessarily tailored to the most local of their interests.
The disconnects? Republicans sorely want to win Ohio. However, their convention may or may not include John Kasich, the state’s popular GOP popular governor. Socially conservative “Deer Hunter” Pennsylvanians will tune in a Philadelphia convention devoid of any pro-life Democrats (ironically, it was a pro-life Pennsylvania governor, the late Bob Casey, who was denied camera-time at the same1992 Democratic National Convention that first gave us the Clintons as America’s new power couple).
In a better world, there’s a better way for the two parties to go about their convention selection process – a conversation also likely occur after the trouble-plagued Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are over.
Here are two approaches:
First, the parties could simply rotate their gatherings among a limited circuit of cities whose areas speak to their existence.
For the Democrats, that would be a short list of Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. And Republicans: Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston and Dallas, Phoenix and San Diego (yes, the city’s trended Democratic, but it’s still a Navy town).
But if that’s too exclusionary, there’s a second option: do away with the host cities altogether.
My suggestion: both parties should take their tribes to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for Republicans – that’s about 50,000 participants, including 15,000 credentialed media – and hold the political equivalent of Burning Man, the nine-day temporary “participatory metropolis” dedicated to art, communal spirit and the pursuit of individual self-expression.
Why the middle of nowhere in Nevada?
To the outside world, only one hour in all four of the convention days matters: the nominee’s acceptance speech. As long as someone does a sound check and the satellite feeds are working, it doesn’t matter if the speech is given in Cleveland, Graceland or a desert wasteland.
We know the Nevada desert can accommodate the crowds – about 70,000 people showed up for last year’s Burning Man. Besides, it wouldn’t kill both Democrats and Democrats to do a better job of abiding by some of desert festival’s guiding principles: radical inclusion, gifting, radical self-reliance, communal effort, civic responsibility.
Go ahead and enjoy Cleveland and Philadelphia – if not the humidity, such civic gems as Rocky Balboa’s statue and the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
But if you’re seeing red this fall after your convention gain fails to deliver its purple home state: why not feel the Burn in 2020?
Bill Whalen is a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, where he analyzes California and national politics. He also blogs daily on the 2016 election at www.adayattheracesblog.com. Follow him on Twitter @hooverwhalen.