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Nashville’s decision to postpone Republican National Convention vote could benefit Milwaukee’s bid

With only 2 finalists remaining, delay in Nashville could help swing GOP to Wisconsin

Downtown Milwaukee
Art in Bloom happens every year at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Carrie Antlfinger/AP Photo

Opposition to hosting the 2024 Republican National Convention among leaders in Nashville, Tenn., could leave Milwaukee as the last candidate standing.

On Tuesday evening, Nashville’s City Council dropped plans to approve a draft agreement with the RNC amid opposition from key council members and skepticism from the city’s mayor.

Milwaukee, the other finalist for the convention, passed its draft agreement in June.

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If Nashville doesn’t approve the agreement, Milwaukee could essentially win the convention by default. But some involved in the process still expect Nashville to take action in time to have its bid considered by the RNC at its Aug. 5 meeting.

For Milwaukee, the bid is an attempt to make up for the 2020 Democratic National Convention. That event had been slated to bring millions of visitors and a national spotlight to the city but ended up being held mostly virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Claire Koenig, communications director with VISIT Milwaukee, said the convention would have a short-term economic impact of as much as $200 million, and that the international spotlight it would bring to Milwaukee could have long-term implications. She pointed to Cleveland, which got an image boost when the GOP chose it for its 2016 convention.

Hosting the convention “gets us in the minds of planners all over the world as a meetings destination,” Koenig said. “In Cleveland, they attribute getting the (2022) NBA All-Star Game and the (2019) MLB All-Star Game in part because they hosted the RNC in 2016.”

As in Nashville, though, the bid to host the RNC in one of Wisconsin’s Democratic strongholds has been met with pressure from labor groups and liberal activists who are ideologically opposed to the policies the GOP espouses. In May, a letter from several of these groups accused the Republican Party of being “an organization that supports white supremacists.”

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, a Democrat, has said the city’s bid is a “business decision,” emphasizing the boost in visitor dollars that comes with the massive, quadrennial event. The 2020 convention had been expected to draw some 50,000 people, though the pandemic-restricted gatherings that went forward accounted for just a fraction of that.

While some in Milwaukee greeted the news that Nashville had pulled the vote as a sign that the RNC may favor Wisconsin, it’s not a done deal yet. An RNC spokesperson told WPR that “the council still had questions that needed to be clarified by the host committee, so the agreement was pulled so those questions can be answered.”

The RNC anticipated the agreement would be finalized “later this week,” the spokesperson said.

Koenig said Nashville’s actions “might have given (Milwaukee) a slight edge, especially because our Council supported it unanimously. But we’re still thinking of this as a competitive race.”

In January, Milwaukee and Nashville were among four finalists for the event, along with Pittsburgh, Penn., and Salt Lake City, Utah. By February, Pittsburgh was reportedly out of the running, and Salt Lake City dropped out in March due to scheduling conflicts.

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