Democrats eyeball Minneapolis-St. Paul for '08 convention

A roomful of Democrats
Former VP Walter Mondale and retiring Sen. Mark Dayton flank DNCC official Matt Nugen, who was in town to assess the area's suitability for the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

The Democratic National Committee representatives arrived Sunday and will be touring the Twin Cities through Wednesday evening. They'll look at arenas in Minneapolis and in St. Paul. They'll ride the light-rail train and board a boat for a cruise on the Mississippi River. And through it all they'll be wined and dined by local dignitaries.

During breakfast at a fancy downtown Minneapolis hotel the DNC delegation heard from several well-known Minnesota Democrats, including former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Tom McMahon
Tom McMahon, executive director of the Democratic National Committee as Minnesota officials attempted to lure the party to holds its 2008 national convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"I've spent my life going to Democratic conventions -- lost a lot of it going to Democratic conventions -- and I think this is the place to be for the next Democratic convention," he said.

Mondale joked that Minnesota deserves the convention because it's gone for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since the mid 1970s. In more serious tones, Mondale talked about Minnesota's history as a leader in the civil and women's rights movements.

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"Wherever justice and decency are important, Minnesotans have usually been right up front, so we think we stand for something and we mean something," he said.

Mondale also talked about the newfound importance of the Midwest in the race for White House, saying Minnesota's geographical location makes it a perfect place for Democrats to formally launch their campaign for president.

The DNC convention committee has already made site visits to New York and Denver. Next month the delegation will be in New Orleans, the fourth city on its list of host finalists.

We look at it as being home to Sen. Coleman and Rep. Kennedy as well. I think that it would be an interesting place to have it.

Denver is rumored to be the front-runner, although the head of the DNC denies any location has the lead as yet.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak characterized Denver's mountains as a "pretty picture," saying the Twin Cities and the Mississippi River offer a political strategy.

"If you think about what happens as you at the headwaters of the Mississippi nominate a president and then put that president, over the next few days, down the river as we think about Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, which is very much a state that's in play, and then right as the Republicans are convening, our candidate pulls into New Orleans. There's a strong, strong message that we can really send out of that and that matters," he said.

Making the argument that Minnesota represents the heartland that'll decide the next presidential election, Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman both talked about A Prairie Home Companion host and author Garrison Keillor.

Coleman suggested that national Democrats could successfully use the Twin Cities as a backdrop for their argument that Republican spending cuts are hurting U.S. cities.

"We have tremendous resources," he said. "We've been leaders on environmental issues, on civil rights as Vice President Mondale talked about, on education, and yet because of the lack of investment that we've seen over the last several decades, we are beginning to pay the price for that. We have tremendous wealth in the Twin Cities and yet we have tremendous disparity between have and have-nots."

DNC Executive Director Tom McMahon says Democrats will make their 2008 convention site decision sometime in November or December.

McMahon says Minnesota's rich Democratic history and its Midwestern battleground location will be taken into account as they make their decision. But more than anything, McMahon indicated, the choice will come down to what city can best handle hosting 20,000-plus people for a national political convention.

"What we're going to come here and look at is the security aspects, the transportation aspects, hotel accommodations and then the arena itself and then a lot of those other considerations. You know, when you look at those things, those really are a big determining factors in terms of a city's ability to host a convention," he said.

Local officials estimate that hosting the convention would cost about $50 million, with most of that money coming from donations across the country. Estimates about how much money such a large convention brings to a region vary widely.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are also on the short list of sites for the 2008 Republican National Convention.

RNC spokesman Aaron McLear responded this way when asked whether it would seem odd for Republicans to gather in Minnesota the home of Humphrey, Mondale and Paul Wellstone: "We look at it as being home to Sen. Coleman and Rep. Kennedy as well. I think that it would be an interesting place to have it. I'm not sure that the site selection committee thinks about that a whole lot. We're really looking for the best place for a lot of factors to show off our candidates and talk about our agenda, but obviously it's sure not lost on them that Minnesota certainly has been and will continue to be a swing state for both parties."

Although the Democratic mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul are neck deep now in their impassioned pitch for the Democratic National Convention, Rybak says he'll change his tune in August when he the others will have a shot at trying to convince Republican leaders the Twin Cities is actually the best place for their convention.

"I'm a Democrat, but I am a Minnesotans more than that and I am a salesperson for this community and I will sell it to Democrats and I will sell it to Republicans. I would obviously, as a Democrat, have a little bit better time with the Democratic convention, but more than anything else I like to show off our city and we'll show that off to anyone. I will work as hard as I can for the Republican convention as well," Rybak insisted.

There's no word on whether the delegation of Republicans will be provided with copies of Garrison Keillor's "Homegrown Democrat." The Democrats got the book for their visit.

Officials say although the Twin Cities made it to the short lists of both the Republicans and the Democrats, the metro area would not host both conventions the same year. Whichever party makes the decision first would have the location to itself.