Republicans pick Twin Cities for GOP Convention

Wednesday, September 27th 2006, 3:08 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans will hold their 2008 presidential convention in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, choosing a location in the politically pivotal Midwest.

Party and state officials were formally announcing the selection Wednesday. The convention is slated for Sept. 1-4.

Losing out were New York City, Cleveland and a joint bid from Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla., other cities that had sought the convention.

The four-day event will be held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., a concert venue and the home of the National Hockey League's Minnesota Wild.

Democrats also had been considering holding their convention in the Twin Cities but the Republican announcement left Democrats with only two cities to choose from _ New York City and Denver.

By picking the Twin Cities for 2008, the GOP will ensure plenty of news coverage in media markets in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa _ all battleground states in the 2004 election and ones expected to be competitive in the next presidential race.

``The heartland of America,'' said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. ``Whoever wins those states is going to be the next president of the United States.''

Minnesota had been seen by some as an unlikely host, with just 10 electoral votes and the nation's longest streak of voting for Democratic presidential candidates.

In 2004, Democrat John Kerry won the state 51 percent to 48 percent. The last Republican to win a presidential race in the state was Richard Nixon in 1972 and the last national convention happened in 1892, when the GOP backed President Benjamin Harrison in his unsuccessful re-election bid.

Minnesota's political landscape, however, has shifted to the right in recent years. It has become less of a Democratic bastion and more of a swing-voting state, a change attributed in part to population growth in the Twin Cities suburbs.

The state was a hard-fought battleground in the 2004 and 2000 presidential elections, and in 2002, Minnesota elected Republican Tim Pawlenty as governor and Republican Norm Coleman as senator.

``Our stereotype is that we're cold and liberal and Democratic, and we're still cold,'' said Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

In the 2004 general election, 38 percent of Minnesota voters identified themselves as Democrats, while 35 percent called themselves Republicans, according to exit poll data. Twenty-seven percent identified as independents or ``something else.''

With the convention, the GOP hopes to court voters in a region Republican and Democratic strategists alike say will play a critical role in winning the White House in 2008. The GOP held its last convention in New York City, a Democratic stronghold where GOP delegates nominated President Bush for a second term.

Democrats, who last met in Boston, plan to hold their convention Aug. 25-28, and will announce a location later this fall. A spokesman said 11 sites expressed interest in having the party's convention, but only four completed the proposals. New Orleans later withdrew its bid, leaving Denver, New York City and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

But Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has said that because of timing and logistics, the Twin Cities can't host both conventions. The two conventions are scheduled for consecutive weeks.

Democrats said the competition for their convention now is between two cities.

``The DNC was thrilled to have three great American cities submit strong bids for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. We are looking forward to working with Denver and New York as we make our final decision,'' said Stacie Paxton, a Democratic party spokeswoman.

The Twin Cities are the two largest in the state with a combined population of more than 650,000, and the metropolitan region straddle the Mississippi River.

In Minnesota, the effort to woo a national political convention has been a bipartisan affair, with the two big-city mayors, both Democrats, joining forces with top Republicans. They argued that Minnesota is a critical part of an Upper Midwest region that combined offers 27 electoral votes.

The GOP convention will coincide with the Minnesota State Fair, and state officials have predicted a national political convention would boost the Twin Cities economy by about $150 million.