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Denver Deal for Democrats

Michael J. Ring

Last week, the Democratic National Committee announced the three finalist cities for the Democratic convention in the year 2000. Boston, Los Angeles, and Denver are in the race for the national convention and its $140 million boost to the city's economy.

There has been a great swell of excitement in local political circles regarding Boston's nomination. Business leaders are drooling over the economic impact, and party leaders in the nation's most reliably Democratic state want to bring the Democrats to Boston as a "homecoming" for the party.

The conventional wisdom is that Los Angeles is a heavy favorite to get the convention; so almost immediately local Democrats began attacking what they saw as weak commitment: Boston's effort has already secured $16 million in pledges to finance the convention, compared to Los Angeles' $8 million.

Given the bickering and squabbling between the coasts on financial commitment, the Democratic National Committee risks forgetting the reason for the convention. The modern political convention is a strategic tool, designed to accomplish two important goals. First, it must show to a national television audience a polished platform and presentation of its candidates. Second, the national convention can be used by a party to build support in the region of the country where it is held.

The national convention gives a party the opportunity to tailor its message and pay special needs to the host state or region. In light of this second goal, neither Boston nor Los Angeles is a strategic choice for the convention in 2000. The Democrats' best choice is to go to Denver.

The largest complaint against Boston's effort is that Boston is too Democratic a city, and, in an era where politics is perception, it is an objection which must be taken seriously. While Massachusetts' Democratic officials both at the state and national levels have accomplished marvelous tasks, their work could be overshadowed by Middle America's perception of Boston. Massachusetts is, after all, a state that will probably keep electing Ted Kennedy until he's in the ground.

It appears to many that Boston is a city of the rich, liberal elite. And Massachusetts' last candidate to stand as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States wasn't exactly received too well by the rest of the country. Bringing the convention to Boston might stir up too many bad memories for many voters.

But many of these complaints against Boston are equally compelling when evaluating Los Angeles' bid. Replace Harvard with Hollywood, and you've transformed the East Coast liberal elite to the West Coast liberal elite. Switching Boston for Los Angeles exchanges an intellectual elite for a celebrity elite, and neither group is well received among working-class swing voters.

Some point to California's 54 electoral votes as grounds for heading west with the convention. But California just elected a Democratic governor and senator by solid margins. Governor-Elect Gray Davis, in fact, won by a whopping 20 percentage points in a race that many once believed would go down to the wire, and Senator Barbara Boxer's supposed "squeaker" of a race turned into a comfortable 11-point win for her. California's other Senator, Dianne Feinstein, is also a Democrat.

The Democratic Party's fortunes in the Rockies, however, have been sagging. Clinton carried Colorado in 1992 but lost it to Dole in 1996. The Republicans control both Senate seats and four of six Colorado's House seats, and earlier this month they won the Colorado governor's race. As for the surrounding states, Democrats have done well in some elections recently in New Mexico, but they have struggled in the rest of the Rockies.

None of the states in the Rockies is electorally rich; Colorado, with its eight electoral votes, commands more than any state in the region. But the electoral vote strategy of the election of 2000 could very well be focused on the small states. Considering the Democrats' recent victories in California, the Democrats have every reason to believe they will again win California in 2000. New York, of course, should go Democratic in a presidential election. Given that the Republican presidential nominee that year might be Texas Governor George W. Bush, the Republicans will be able to win his own state of Texas and Florida (a state to be governed by his brother Jeb). The dynamics of this election then could take the four largest states immediately out of play. Having the convention in a state like Colorado would be a wise tactical maneuver for Democrats as well as a gesture showing small states the importance of their votes to the campaign drive.

In addition, a convention in Denver would allow the Democrats to stress issues important to the region, especially environmental protection. Many in Colorado, for example, are concerned with conservation issues, and New Mexico boasts strong sympathy for the Green Party. The Republicans have shown no commitment to protecting the environment, so a strong environmental platform would give many people in the Rockies a reason to consider voting Democratic.

When all is said and done, the Democrats will most likely choose Los Angeles as their convention site. Such a choice, though, would represent a squandered opportunity for Democrats to make inroads in one of their weakest regions of the country. With Boston and Los Angeles already favored to vote Democratic in the next presidential election, Denver is the best choice for the 2000 Democratic National Convention.