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Some optimistic Ohio could land both 2016 party conventions

Major effort underway to have Democratic convention in Columbus after Republicans announced they are going to Cleveland.

Cleveland’s selection as host for the 2016 Republican National Convention has Columbus hoping that Ohio fever spreads.

The city hopes that the same logic that spurred the Republican National Committee to pick Cleveland – swing state politics, a thriving economy – causes the Democratic National Committee to pick Columbus over four other cities to host the 2016 Democratic National Committee.

By picking Columbus, they argue, the Democrats could negate any swing state momentum spurred by the influx of Republicans into northern Ohio.

On a more obvious front, Cleveland, which was also vying to host the Democratic National Convention, is essentially eliminated from the running because it was tapped by the RNC. The DNC has an exclusivity clause which would bar a city from hosting both conventions once a contract is signed. The RNC contract with Cleveland is now in negotiations.

“We’re going to make history,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “I feel good about Columbus’ chances.”

“I do hope it helps Columbus’ chances to get the DNC,” said Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County Executive and the Democratic candidate for governor, who said his efforts to help land the Republican Convention in Cleveland have now shifted to getting the Democratic convention in Columbus.

Republicans also are optimistic. Columbus-area U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp., said if he were Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, he’d argue that picking Columbus for the Democratic convention could mitigate any advantage that picking Cleveland gave to the Republicans. “Columbus is in a uniquely good position, particularly with Coleman advocating on the Democratic side,” he said.

A technical advisory committee to the Democratic National Committee will visit Columbus in early August, visiting the other cities between late July and early September. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz plans to announce a final decision in late 2014 or early 2015.

Were Columbus to be selected, it would be the first time one state has held both parties’ conventions since 1972, when the Republicans and Democrats gathered in Miami. In 1952, the Republicans and Democrats held their conventions in Chicago.

Miami, recalls former Ohio Republican Party Chair Robert T. Bennett, didn’t go particularly smoothly, and the parties shied away from hosting in the same city, with the Democrats creating an exclusivity clause barring a city from hosting both conventions. But those clauses don’t bar two cities in the same state from hosting.

“Columbus is ready for this, as Cleveland is ready for this,” said Brown.

But others are skeptical. One question will be whether the state can raise the money to host two conventions. Cleveland must raise $60 million for its GOP convention and Democrats as well are being asked to put up a healthy sum in order to host.

While Cleveland companies such as Eaton, Sherwin-Williams and KeyBank aggressively pursued the GOP convention, privately there are some business officials in Central Ohio who worry that an all-out effort to win the Democratic convention could come at the expense of other vital projects.

Those in the business community insist that Columbus is in it to win it. The city also put in a bid for the Republican National Convention but was eliminated early in the process.

“I can tell you I never go off doing things like I am doing for both conventions if my membership wasn’t supportive and that usually includes our entire membership and starts with our executive committee,” said Alex Fischer, president and chief executive officer of the Columbus Partnership, which represents most of the major companies in Central Ohio.

Brown said he does not believe raising the money would be a problem, because Columbus and Cleveland both have thriving business communities. He said the only potential overlap would be with the state, which has agreed to spend $10 million for the GOP convention.

“I would think Governor Kasich would want the Democratic Convention in Columbus as much as I want the Republican convention in Cleveland,” he said. “Which is a lot.”

Jack Torry and Catherine Candisky contributed to this story.

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