Why the Democrats Chose Philadelphia

Drum roll please… and the winner is, Philadelphia, edging out Columbus and New York. After months of mayoral jockeying and rigorously scrutinized financial proposals, the Democrats have selected a host city for their convention in 2016.

Why Philadelphia? So far, the story has been about logistics. The Wells Fargo Center stands among other athletic facilities, removed from high-rises and skyscrapers that require greater coverage -- making security simpler. Public transportation to the downtown area makes for easy access to a number of hotels and other attractions. The Republican convention is in Cleveland, so both parties would be competing for a finite pool of donor money. And having hosted the RNC in 2000, Philadelphia has a history of success in managing this major event.

But what about the political reasons?

Pennsylvania is at a critical inflection point. Voting Democratic in every Presidential Election since 1992, Pennsylvania may no longer be considered a true swing state.  However, its congressional makeup stands at 5 Democrats to 13 Republicans. Pat Toomey rode the Tea Party wave to a Senate seat and has no viable challengers in next year’s race; and its General Assembly is still Republican-controlled, despite Tom Wolf’s sizable gubernatorial victory last fall.

President Obama won Pennsylvania by more than 9 points in 2008 but only 5 points in 2012; President Bush lost the state by a mere 2.5 points in 2004. Its unique position of straddling both eastern and midwestern populations make it unpredictable and bizarre.

James Carville famously quipped that, “Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle.” An exaggerated view, yet look at any statewide election by county. You’ll see two blue poles for the major metropolitan areas with a sea of red in between. The key to victory has always been the suburbs – turnout in the outskirts of Allegheny County in the west, and Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks Counties in the east typically dictates the state’s trajectory.

With these features in mind, Pennsylvania is still up for grabs, and the convention is an opportunity to strengthen the Democratic base in a state that maintains local Republican strongholds.

Yes, the donor base in Philadelphia may have been better than Columbus. And yes, logistics may be less nightmarish than New York. But don’t think for a minute that these facts drove the decision. 

A convention in liberal New York does Democrats little good. Speaking before a home crowd, Hillary Clinton -- the presumptive nominee -- would miss the opportunity to address a more electorally critical population. And battling Republicans for the spotlight in Ohio could muddy the Democratic message leading into the heart of campaign season.

Pennsylvania is still an important state, and choosing Philadelphia was a purely political calculation. Everything else is just noise.