Republicans promise delegates will stay in Wisconsin for GOP convention

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MILWAUKEE — Republicans are setting up their 2024 convention so that delegates don’t have to set foot in the blue state of Illinois.

Convention organizers say all the state delegations will stay at hotels within Wisconsin’s borders — and they’re nudging them to fly in and out of the Milwaukee airport — when Republicans meet next year to nominate their presidential candidate.

Accomplishing this is no small feat. Milwaukee is a comparatively smaller city than the nearby Chicago, and it’s challenging to find enough hotel rooms for the large-scale political event.

Most convention delegates will stay in Milwaukee, though some may find themselves taking a train from Kenosha, 40 miles south of Milwaukee, or a bus from Madison, 80 miles west — even if some far-flung Chicago suburbs might make more sense for some travelers. But for Republicans, it’s worth it to demonstrate that they’re committed to the crucial swing state of Wisconsin.

“Illinois is not a state that is politically in our corner, right? So being that Wisconsin is a key swing state, the decision to be here in its entirety was intentional,” Elise Dickens, CEO of the Republican National Convention, told POLITICO in an interview.

Dickens credited Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel with crossing the ideological line to coordinate with Milwaukee’s Democratic mayor, Cavalier Johnson.

“We know Milwaukee is a blue community, and we wanted to show up. There’s a lot of opportunity here and we’ve invested in this state for a very long time,” Dickens said.

Conventions over the years have famously struggled with proximity. Delegates have long had to commute long distances, far from the downtown floor action of the televised events. That will still be the case for Republicans in 2024, though organizers are emphasizing that they will have the benefit of staying in Wisconsin.

Hotel locations were also top of mind for Democratic National Convention organizers who worked to keep delegates all within the Chicago city limits for the party’s August 2024 convention.

The Republican National Committee expects about 2,429 delegates and 2,262 alternates and another 45,000 members of the media, guests, entourages and volunteers. Hotel assignments for delegations won’t be made until the spring, so theoretically they all might fit in the greater Milwaukee area, organizers said.

The promise of that commerce still wasn’t a quick sell for some Wisconsin businesses, acknowledged Dickens. Some felt “burned” after the Democratic convention four years ago in Milwaukee went virtual because of the pandemic. The business they had hoped for never materialized.

But even before the Democratic convention was canceled, there were sore feelings about Democrats staying in suburban Chicago hotels and flying in and out of O’Hare, Dickens said.

“There’s a rich history of a rivalry between Wisconsin and Illinois,” she said. “So some local Milwaukeeans didn’t take kindly to the DNC wanting to cross over the borders.”

Reince Priebus, chair of Milwaukee’s Host Committee, and other organizers worked the phones to convince business owners that the Republican convention would be good for Wisconsin pocketbooks.

And the mayor has been doing the same, telling businesses and potential donors that the convention isn’t about “red or blue.” It’s about green.

“I’m a proud Democrat,” Johnson told media representatives during a walkthrough of the convention site at Fiserv Arena earlier this month. “I’m not here in any political capacity. I’m here because my goal is hosting a convention that brings attention to Milwaukee.”

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