Why Columbus should host the 2016 DNC

David Stebenne
Professor of History and Law

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As Ohio goes, so goes the nation. And Columbus, writes Professor David Stebenne, would be an ideal host city for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

The Democratic National Committee is poised to choose which city should host its 2016 national convention. While Philadelphia and New York City would be safe choices, Columbus has a strong case for being the best choice among these three finalists.

National political conventions used to be held in places where important decisions about presidential and vice presidential nominations were made. They also sometimes featured very deep disagreements over what stands the party ought to take on major national issues, such as slavery, Prohibition and the Vietnam War. In the past generation, however, those kinds of debates over whom to nominate and what to stand for have tended to be resolved by the end of the primary season. What conventions are now intended to do is introduce the party’s candidates and message to the general electorate, functioning in essence as a kind of week-long infomercial.

With that shift, from an exercise in making decisions to one of promoting them, where conventions are situated has also undergone a change. In the days when the major decisions about candidates and platforms were often made at the conventions, party leaders tended to choose venues where they felt most in control. For the Democrats, that often meant Chicago, where no Republican has served as mayor since “Big Bill” Thompson left office in 1931. Now the emphasis has shifted to choosing a city that helps promote the overall message the party wants to send. 

Columbus could help the Democrats present themselves as the party of the sensible center and the one that best understands America’s middle class, given the city’s “swing city in the swing state” role and its middle – class, family – town sensibility. Bringing their convention to central Ohio could also help the Democrats win the state and the presidency for the third consecutive time. And if Hillary Clinton should become the party's presidential nominee, as now seems likely, holding the convention here would give her a good platform on which to reintroduce herself as the native Midwesterner that she really is, in an election in which that region will be the most closely contested.

For those wondering how Columbus can even be in the running to host the convention, they should know the city has changed a lot in the last several decades. Previous major party conventions have always been held in other Ohio cities, most notably Cleveland. Columbus was always something of a kid sister when compared with Cleveland and Cincinnati, but by the summer of 2016, all three cities’ metro areas will have come very close to converging at around 2 million residents each.

Columbus can be seen as “tomorrow’s American city today." If you want to see where America is headed, in a hopeful sense, then come to Columbus, where a comfortable, child-friendly, middle-class life and a diverse – yet civil and consensual – politics and society are all clearly in evidence.

Columbus shows that not all Midwestern cities are aging centers of past glories. The town’s youth and energy are striking, especially in the Midwestern context. Columbus actually has more college students per capita than any other American city except Boston, something that would become immediately clear to the Democrats’ convention delegates. And in a country that seems to be idling in place, Columbus is growing all the time and in all directions – and that, too, would come across in a memorable way if the city manages to land the 2016 convention.

Of course, conventions aren’t all about work. Columbus can be a fun place to spend a weekend, for delegates known to enjoy a party. There are, of course, lots of different definitions of the word “fun,” and the Columbus version usually means “fun for the whole family.” For the Democrats, who are trying hard to reconnect with morally traditional people, this kind of setting would be ideal.

If you want a place that combines the strengths of the Frostbelt with those of the Sunbelt, then the Democrats can’t do any better than Columbus.

Header image credit: By Cornell University Library [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

David Stebenne
David Stebenne - Stebenne.1@osu.edu
Professor of History and Law

David Stebenne is a professor of History and Law at The Ohio State University. He is a specialist in modern American political and legal history.


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