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5 Reasons to Be Delighted and Worried About a GOP Convention in Cleveland

4 minute read

Correction appended, July, 9, 2014.

Randy Newman sang it best, more than 40 years before Republicans chose Cleveland on Tuesday to host their 2016 convention.

There’s a red moon rising
On the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

That’s right. The Republicans are coming, and they will be camping out for a week in one of the most Democratic parts of the nation’s most crucial swing state. It’s a blessing and a curse, a wonderful choice and problematic one all the same. Here’s a quick five-point guide to America’s North Coast, the place Newman called the “city of light, city of magic”—and what Republicans should expect.

1. Ohio is perhaps the key state in presidential elections. No Republican has won the White House without Ohio since Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and the last candidate in either party to win without Ohio was Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960. But there is nothing too swingy about Cleveland. In Cuyahoga County, there are an estimated 345,000 Democratic voters and 126,000 Republicans.

2. Exactly because it is such a hotbed of Democratic activism, Republicans have a lot to gain, just as Barack Obama did in 2008 by holding the Democratic convention in the once-red state of Colorado. Since 1856, Cuyahoga has voted Republican 19 times and Democratic 21 times in presidential elections. But, says Mike Dawson, the founder of Ohioelectionresults.com, “if you look at the last 10 elections, Cuyahoga County has voted 10 times for the Democrat and never for the Republican.” Dawson, a Republican consultant, argues that the Cleveland convention should boost Republican turnout in the highly-populated Cleveland area, as well as the rest of the key swing state. “It’s not just a boon for the county or the region,” he says. “It’s gonna have a benefit for the whole state.”

3. The last time the Republicans had a convention in Cleveland, in 1936, they nominated Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, who was defeated by Franklin Roosevelt in a landslide. But the party of Lincoln need not fear a curse. Before that, Cleveland was the site of the 1924 convention that renominated the victorious Calvin Coolidge. (Just try to forget that Grover Cleveland was a Democrat.)

4. The city of magic has a long history of catering to the peculiar needs of the political class. Back in 1924, during the dark days of prohibition, the great scribe H.L. Mencken reported on the extraordinary steps Cleveland took to satisfy the Republican Party. “My agents in Cleveland report that elaborate preparations are under way there to slack the thirst of the visitors, which is always powerful at national conventions,” he wrote. “The town is very well supplied with bootleggers, and regular lines of rum ships run into it from Canadian ports. Ohio has a State Volstead act and a large force of spies and snoopers, many of them former jail-birds. These agent of the Only True Christianity, no doubt, will all concentrate in Cleveland, and dispute with the national Prohibition blacklegs for the graft. I venture the guess that bad Scotch will sell for $15 a bottle in the hotels and at the convention hall, and that more than one delegate will go home in the baggage car, a victim of methyl alcohol.” Would that it be so again, without the alcohol poisoning, of course.

5. Two words: Johnny Manziel. They have a ring to them that “Reince Priebus” will never match. There is also the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The inductees may be overwhelmingly liberal, but Kid Rock is always down for a show.

Additional reporting by Becca Stanek/Washington

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the outcome of the 2010 election in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Republican Governor John Kasich did not win the county.

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