One of five cities bidding for the Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia appears to hold an early edge with a track record of hosting the major gathering — not to mention that Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden have family ties to the state.
The original U.S. capital and now the nation’s fifth largest city, Philadelphia touts its historical significance. It has hosted the presidential nominating convention seven times since 1856, most recently the Republican one in 2000.
Also vying for the 2016 convention are Birmingham, Alabama; New York City’s Brooklyn borough; Columbus, Ohio; and Phoenix — each hoping to host its first presidential convention.
“I do think that Philadelphia has a very good chance of getting it,” said former DNC Chairman Joe Andrew, who guided the party’s selection of convention cities from 1996 to 2004 and supports the city’s bid. He noted that Philadelphia was a front-runner for the 2000 Democratic convention, but Republicans picked it first.
“Philadelphia has a strong bid based on great mechanics, and there’s no question that Democrats would like to nail down Pennsylvania,” Andrew said. He said Clinton’s and Biden’s family ties to Pennsylvania will likely be “a consideration.”
Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who presided over Democrats’ choice of Denver in 2008, also rated the city as a top contender. “Philadelphia would be a successful host,” he said.
DNC members were visiting Brooklyn early this week before heading to the City of Brotherly Love on Wednesday to review potential venues, hotels and transportation options for the estimated 50,000 delegates, party activists and media expected for the convention.
City officials said they planned a full schedule of events, including stops at the Liberty Bell and Pat’s Steaks for Philadelphia’s famous cheesesteaks, as well as a candelight tour of Independence Hall. Visits to the other cities in contention are to be completed by mid-September.
The Obama White House also will weigh in on the final selection, with a decision not expected until later this year or early in 2015.
A perennial swing state with 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania more recently has trended liberal, due in part to Hispanic immigration and other population growth in Philadelphia and its suburbs that have balanced out GOP-leaning voters elsewhere. Democratic presidential candidates have carried the state since 1992.
“We’re very hopeful about our chances,” said former DNC chairman Ed Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor and Philadelphia mayor who is helping guide the 2016 bid.
The city’s media market covers large parts of New Jersey, a potential factor if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, runs for president. Democrat Hillary Clinton’s father was born in Scranton, and daughter Chelsea’s mother-in-law, Marjorie Margolies, lives in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Biden grew up in Scranton and often touts his middle-class Pennsylvania roots.
DNC officials have stressed that a city must meet logistical requirements — fundraising, ample hotel rooms and local transportation— before political factors such as swing-state status, a city’s diversity and strong labor relationships are considered.
“We are focused right now on the technical aspects,” said DNC spokeswoman Lily Adams.
Philadelphia boosters are emphasizing their convention experience and space with the Wells Fargo Center and the recently expanded Philadelphia Convention Center. Officials say they’ll be able to handle the $55 million to $60 million price tag and provide ample security.
The national convention is a major boon to the host city, bringing national media attention and up to $200 million for the local economy.
The city that is also home to Benjamin Franklin’s legacy, the movie hero Rocky and a growing restaurant scene is promising a “walkable experience” of culture, downtown hotels, food and history, compared to two contenders that it considers as its main rivals, Brooklyn and Columbus.
Brooklyn offers itself as a hip, national symbol of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s liberalism. It has strong fundraising ability and is in a state Clinton represented as U.S. senator. But it has just 3,500 hotel rooms in the borough — convention officials are seeking 17,000 within a close drive — meaning many attendees would need to stay in other boroughs such as Manhattan, potentially straining public transit.
Columbus promotes itself as a fast-growing swing city in the hard-fought battleground of Ohio. After the Republican National Committee selected Cleveland to host its convention, the mayor cautioned that Democrats risked losing Ohio in 2016 if they didn’t pick Columbus.
Columbus’s bid has at times stirred the competitive instincts of Pennsylvania boosters.
After initially criticizing Columbus and its bid, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Pa., has more recently focused on Philadelphia’s strengths.
“Philadelphia has much more to offer,” Brady said.