Thomas E. Dewey, Governor of New York, was nominated as Republican Presidential candidate on the first ballot at the convention in Chicago on June 28. The voting was 1,056 to one, the delegate from Wisconsin casting his vote for General MacArthur. Thomas Dewey with arms outstretched acknowledging the plaudits of the delegates at the Chicago Convention on June 28, 1944. (AP Photo)
So why didn’t President Obama show his hometown some love and hold the Democratic National Convention in Chicago?
Almost every other Illinoisan who ran for the presidency was nominated at a convention in Chicago – Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Ulysses S. Grant in 1868, Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956. The only exception was Stephen Douglas, who was nominated at the 1860 Democratic National Convention, which re-convened in Baltimore after a 65-ballot deadlock in Charleston.
Chicago has hosted 25 political conventions, more than any other city. But we’ve fallen out of favor as a convention city. The 1968 riot in Grant Park had something to do with it. After that, the parties stayed away for 28 years, not returning until Bill Clinton was peacefully re-nominated in 1996. That proved we could hold a convention without beating up protestors. But the parties haven’t returned. Why not?
Well, first of all, Chicago’s convention dominance occurred during the railroad era, when Union Station was an easily-reached destination from almost every corner of the United States. We’ve only held two conventions since 1960, when the jet became a populist form of travel.
Now that it’s possible to convene in any city with a major airport, the parties are favoring political calculations over convenience. Due to the exigencies of the electoral college, they prefer to convene in swing states.
More specifically, swing states that have lately voted for the opposing party. Obama’s first convention was in Denver. He won Colorado, which had twice voted for George W. Bush. This year, in Charlotte, he’s trying to hold on to North Carolina, another Bush state he won by one-half of one percent. The 2008 Republican National Convention was held in St. Paul, capital of Minnesota, which has the nation’s longest streak of voting Democratic. This year, it was in Tampa, Fla., which Mitt Romney has to win back from Obama to have any chance at the presidency.
There was a sign on the old Playboy Mansion on State Street that said, in Latin, “If you don’t swing, don’t ring.” In presidential elections, Illinois no longer swings, so the parties no longer ring.
This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.