Milwaukee will officially be the site of the 2024 Republican National Convention, playing host to an event that could bring 50,000 visitors and millions of dollars to the city.
It’s a move by Republicans to try and take back Wisconsin after Democratic President Joe Biden narrowly defeated Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Wisconsin has been a crucial swing state in recent national races.
Republicans will name their next candidate for president of the United States in a city that has been a Democratic stronghold for years as conservative leaders will likely be organizing and holding events near landmarks that bear the name of former Socialist mayors who once served the city.
The choice was made official Friday morning at the JW Marriott Hotel in Chicago, as Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, joined Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Milwaukee Host Committee chair Reince Priebus to sign the agreement.
Now, organizers have two years to prepare for the event.
"In the next two years, we look forward to working with the mayor and everyone in the community to make this an event that not only highlights the RNC and our nominee for 2024 but that highlights the great city that Milwaukee is," McDaniel said at the event.
Johnson is optimistic that the event would bring long-term benefits for the city.
"We are looking forward to hosting not just a great convention in 2024 for the Republicans, but we're looking forward to hosting a number of world-class events with the eyes and attention on our city in the years to come," Johnson said.
"There are a wide range of very positive signs for Milwaukee and for its future and the opportunity to host a major political convention is just one of those positive signs," he said.
Milwaukee was also selected to host the Democratic National Convention in 2020. Several months of planning went into that event, as the city prepared to be in the national spotlight. But the event was transitioned to a remote one after the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to shut down any in-person events. That was a blow to a city that was already reeling from the detrimental effects the pandemic had on the local economy.
Now, the city will once again have its shot at the spotlight. But the entire Greater Milwaukee area could also benefit because of the convention, as the hospitality industry will see a large increase in visitors.
"This is great for the state, this is great for the city of Milwaukee, but it's also great for Waukesha County," said Paul Farrow, Waukesha County executive and the chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
"We're going to benefit with the hotel rooms, with the venues that we have to offer," he added.
Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Elections Research Center, said bringing the convention to Milwaukee is a strategic move by Republicans to take back the state.
"It has a lot of political value being in a key battleground state and in the Midwest, where there are other states up for grabs," Burden said about the pick.
Burden also said it's not unusual for Republicans to pick a city that's so long been a stronghold for Democrats.
"They (Milwaukee) welcome the business," he said. "The parties have to hold their conventions somewhere and there really aren’t any major cities left in the U.S. today that are favorable to the Republican party in terms of voting patterns."
Fiserv Forum confirmed the event would be held at their arena in 2024.
"The RNC will serve as a great symbol of future growth for Milwaukee and will continue to prominently show that our city and arena can expertly and successfully host premier events," a statement from Fiserv Forum president Peter Feigin said.
Biden flipped Wisconsin blue after Trump won the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats have historically performed very well in Milwaukee County. In 2020, Biden won nearly 70 percent of the popular vote in the county.
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But Republicans have been increasingly dominant in smaller and more rural communities across the state.
Ben Wikler, the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, released a statement following the news.
"We congratulate Mayor Johnson and County Executive Crowley on their leadership in a step forward in attracting a major economic stimulus to Milwaukee. Meanwhile, we look forward to countering the GOP’s message of radicalism and division and ensuring that the Republican Party’s nominee loses Wisconsin again in 2024," Wikler said in the statement.
Republicans held their 2020 convention with limited in-person events in Charlotte, North Carolina. But in 2016, Cleveland hosted the convention.
A 2017 report from Cleveland State University found the economic impact from the 2016 convention was at $142.2 million. Before the event, many proponents also said the convention would generate around $200 million in economic activity.
The report also found the RNC supported 1,348 total jobs during the four-day event.
VISIT Milwaukee has also pushed for the event to come to Milwaukee ever since the city applied for it.
"We can’t wait to welcome the Republican National Convention to Milwaukee in 2024 to show its attendees and the world Milwaukee’s world-class venues, attractions, restaurants, hotels, and all of the other amenities that make our city such a great place on a Great Lake," Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee, said in a statement. "We’re thrilled to work with the members of the Republican National Committee, the Milwaukee Host Committee, and the City of Milwaukee to put on what we know will be the best Republican National Convention yet."
Community groups denounce decision
But a coalition of community and labor organizations have been calling on the city to reject the convention.
Following the approval, Voces de la Frontera Action, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Never Again is Now, Service Employees International Union Wisconsin State Council and Freedom Action Now released a joint statement, calling the approval an "alarming decision."
"Hosting the RNC in Milwaukee rejects the voices and concerns of Milwaukee’s Black, Brown, and immigrant communities and the members of the LGBTQ+ community, people who value free and fair elections, and organizations who publicly opposed the RNC’s embrace of racist and xenophobic policies, anti-worker policies and attacks on women’s rights and LGBTQ rights," the statement said.
How it got here
In 2019, Milwaukee beat Houston and Miami to host the DNC.
This time around, the city beat out Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Nashville to get the RNC. The city has been working to host the event since last fall, officially putting in an application in December.
Milwaukee quickly emerged as a prominent contender for the event. One month after submitting its application, Politico reported Milwaukee had become a finalist in the process.
The Republican National Convention’s Site Selection Committee visited Milwaukee in February, touring several prominent Milwaukee landmarks, including American Family Field, Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro, Potawatomi Hotel and Casino, State Fair Park and 3rd St. Market Hall in the former Grand Avenue Mall, among other sites. They also visited the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office and the city's police and fire departments to go over safety plans.
Wisconsin Public Radio reported Milwaukee and Nashville were the front-runners for the convention in March.
And in June, the Milwaukee Common Council approved a framework agreement for the convention, laying the groundwork needed for the event to come to the city.
Earlier this week, the Nashville Tennessean reported Nashville council members voted down a draft agreement to host the convention, effectively removing Nashville from the running.