The Republican National Convention is coming to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Well, technically, the members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) must vote on the matter during their meetings in Chicago this week. The site selection committee recommended the Badger State’s largest city be the host of the 2024 convention and the members of the RNC should affirm that decision at their summer meetings. So why will it be in Milwaukee?
First, it is a turnkey proposal. The region was successful in winning the bid for the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Arrangements for hotel accommodations, catering and other food services, security concerns, and other issues were worked out for a national political convention and can be used again in 2024.
In addition, much of the money raised for the 2020 convention comes from sources that can be tapped again for the 2024 convention. Most of the businesses, foundations, and individuals who were interested in hosting a convention in Milwaukee were motivated by civic pride and economic impact. The groundwork was done and is largely transferable to the next convention.
Overall, the local convention and visitors bureau—Visit Milwaukee—put together an impressive proposal. Because they had done the same for the Democrats’ convention in 2020, the people making the recommendation for the RNC knew Milwaukee could deliver on their promises. The new Mayor of Milwaukee did an excellent job convincing the selection panel that they would be welcome. The chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party did a great job of bringing people together in the region. Local activist Gerard Randal helped lead the charge with former RNC Chairman Reince Preibus. John Hiller and others helped behind the scenes. It was a great team effort.
Many might not know this, but Milwaukee sits on the shores of Lake Michigan with one of the most open lakefronts in the Great Lakes region. It is the home of several professional sports teams, arts and entertainment, museums, an award-winning zoo, outstanding restaurants and bars, and Summerfest—the world’s largest music festival.
Second, the Fiserv Forum is a state-of-art facility perfect for hosting a national convention. The home of world champion Milwaukee Bucks is the second newest arena in the National Basketball Association. I was with members of the site selection committee when they toured the Fiserv Forum earlier this year. They were impressed with the complex. It has sufficient seating, excellent access for staging and equipment, and a remarkable entertainment area outside called the Deer District.
In addition, the Fiserv Forum was built with the latest technology. Chairman Preibus noted that it cost the party organizers around $1 million to install 5G equipment at the arena in Cleveland, Ohio for the 2016 national convention. That technology is already built into the Fiserv Forum.
Financing for the new construction was unique. In Wisconsin, professional basketball players (home and visiting teams) pay a prorated income tax for each game. These funds were used to cover the commitment from the state government. The current and former owners of the team matched the public commitment to the new arena. Unlike most sports construction projects, it was done without a new or increased tax.
Overall, the pitch was simple: Milwaukee could match the plans of any of the other sites under consideration for the convention. Once we made the case that we were equal to or better than the other regions, my final push was to go to a state that matters.
In 2016, Wisconsin was key to the election of President Donald Trump. In 2020, the reverse was true for President Joe Biden. In 2000 and 2004, the margin was less than one vote per ward across the state. Wisconsin is a true battleground state.
In contrast, the other finalist for the 2024 Republican National Convention is Nashville. It is a great city in a wonderful state. But Tennessee has not gone for a Democrat in a presidential election in decades. Even former Vice President Al Gore could not carry his home state twenty-two years ago. The electoral college votes of the Volunteer State are going for whomever the Republican candidate for President is in 2024.
With that in mind, why not pick a city in a state that matters?
Improving the margins in Milwaukee can help make that happen in 2024. Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson carried Milwaukee County in one of his re-election campaigns. And I was elected the Milwaukee County Executive three times in an area that traditionally votes for Democrats by about a two-to-one margin.
Making inroads in Milwaukee could help carry the State of Wisconsin, which might be the key to a Republican President winning in 2024. That is why all roads appear to be headed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the next Republican National Convention. We will have a cold beer ready for you!
• Scott Walker is the president of Young America’s Foundation and served as the 45th governor of Wisconsin from 2011 to 2019.
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