Chicago and the GOP Convention: A Brief History

Last week the Chicago Tribune's John Kass wrote an interesting article entitled, 'Republicans afraid of the Storm? Come to Chicago.' In it, Kass made a compelling case for the GOP to move their Convention to Chicago in light of the severe threat Hurricane Isaac posed to 2012 host city Tampa Bay. To move the Convention and its thousands of attendants on such short notice would require a logistical capacity and know-how that only Chicago among large American cities could provide. Kass wrote with amusement about the potential reactions of city residents in this Democratic bastion to the presence of the RNC, many of whom can scarcely fathom the existence of political life here outside of the Democratic machine.

Simply seeing one would amaze and perhaps even frighten city residents. Republican delegates could take turns sitting in a pen at Lincoln Park Zoo just to let Chicagoans see them up close.

"Ma? What's that, ma?" a kid might ask. "It looks like some guy in a suit talking in complete sentences. Does it bite?"

"No, dear," the mom might say. "Don't be afraid. That's just a Republican. We tamed them long ago. But I thought they were extinct."

Despite a positive reception of the idea from Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady, the idea never truly gained any traction. A Republican Convention can't happen here; too many moving parts, too little time, and too big of a pipe dream. Moreover, pundits argue that bringing the Convention to Illinois, perhaps the bluest of 'blue states,' would be a missed opportunity to cater to a 'swing state,' as both the Democrats (North Carolina) and Republicans (Florida) are doing during this election cycle.

With that said, there is no question that when it comes to political conventions this town knows how to throw down. The 1968 Democratic National Convention is among the seminal moments of American political history and a watershed event for Chicagoans, like my father, of a certain age. On the surface, throwing the 2012 Republican National Convention smack in the middle of President Barack Obama's hometown, in the midst of one of the nastiest presidential elections in recent history, would have rivaled even '68 for drama.

Even though today Chicago is as defined by the Democratic Party as any major city in the United States, it hasn't always been that way. In fact, for most of the 156-year history of the Grand Old Party, Chicago was ground zero for Republican political activism. Many readers of yesterday's Wall Street Journal were probably shocked to learn that Chicago has actually hosted the Republican National Convention as many times (14) as the five next most common host cities combined - Philadelphia (6), Cleveland (2), San Francisco (2), Kansas City (2), and Miami (2).

The political careers of many of the Republican Party's most iconic names were spring boarded to prominence from the bright lights of the Second City. Chicago first hosted the GOP Convention in 1860 when the Republican Party nominated Illinois Senator Abraham Lincoln to the top of the ticket. In 1868 Republicans returned to Chicago for the first Convention after the Civil War for the nomination of former Union war hero Ulysses S. Grant. Presidents James Garfield (1880), Benjamin Harrison (1888), Theodore Roosevelt (1904), William Howard Taft (1908), Warren Harding (1920), and Dwight D. Eisenhower (1952) all launched successful presidential campaigns after being nominated in Chicago. Likewise a few of the most famous political burnouts in Republican history such as Herbert Hoover's doomed re-election bid (1932), Thomas Dewey's first of two failed bids (1944), and Richard Nixon's ill-fated showdown with JFK (1960) were launched here.

As Mitt Romney and Co. break out their goulashes and umbrellas to brave the storm filled weather in Tampa Bay for the next three days, Chicagoans will be enjoying a few more of the picture perfect summer days this city is so famous for. Nothing helps us get over a snub like grilling up some of the Midwest's finest grass-fed USDA prime beef and sipping down an ice cold 312 with good friends on a warm summer night. Unfortunately, the beautiful weather expected over the next three nights will probably draw many Chicago residents away from their television sets during many of the speeches that could go a long way towards changing some hearts and minds. But alas, this is Chicago; apparently, there's no room for Republicans here.

Filed under: Mayor Daily Politics

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