MADISON, Wis. — Republicans on Friday unanimously chose Milwaukee in swing state Wisconsin for the 2024 national convention, a win for the city on the shores of Lake Michigan after its hosting of the Democratic convention in 2020 was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision in favor of Milwaukee over Nashville, announced at the Republican National Committee's summer meeting in Chicago, was anti-climactic after Nashville essentially took itself out of the running when the city council on Tuesday rejected a draft agreement for hosting the event. That came after Democratic opposition sunk that city's chances and the RNC's site selection committee picked Milwaukee last month.
Milwaukee's Democratic mayor, Cavalier Johnson, joined with Reince Priebus, a former chief of staff to then-President Donald Trump, to praise the decision after it was announced in Chicago. Johnson thanked Priebus for his work in helping land the convention and said it was an example of bipartisanship that is much needed in the country.
Johnson pitched Milwaukee, known for the Brewers baseball team, Bucks basketball team, brats and beer, as a city "full of unexpected gems." He also made clear why he and so many other Democrats were eager to land the convention hosted by their political rivals.
"I want you to take all your money to Milwaukee, spend it that week, and leave it in Milwaukee," Johnson said.
While Johnson urged bipartisan support, emphasizing the economic boost, some liberals bemoaned hosting Republicans in the city that's home to the largest contingent of Democrats in the state.
Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, a liberal Milwaukee-based group, said having the convention in the city "will make us feel unsafe and unwelcome in our own communities."
"We are calling for our elected officials to begin to take into account what is best not only from a financial standpoint, but the view of what is best for all of Milwaukee residents and communities," BLOC said in a statement. Other groups voicing opposition included Voces de la Frontera Action and SEIU Wisconsin State Council.
Priebus, who served as Wisconsin Republican Party chair before moving on to head the RNC then serving under Trump, said choosing Milwaukee was politically significant and will give Republicans a chance to spend more time in the state.
"It's a battleground state, it matters," Priebus said. "I know sometimes we debate it, but it matters."
Wisconsin could determine who wins in 2024, while Tennessee has not backed a Democrat for president since 1996. But choosing Milwaukee is in line with recent Republican choices for the convention. For two decades, Republicans have placed their nominating convention in swing states — North Carolina, Ohio and Florida.
Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016, but lost to President Joe Biden by a nearly identical margin in 2020.
Wisconsin Republican Party Chair Paul Farrow, who was in Chicago for the RNC meeting, said having the convention in Milwaukee will "energize our base even more to realize we're a very important hinge in the entire country." The winner in Wisconsin has been elected president the past four elections.
Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold, was selected to host the 2020 Democratic National Committee convention, but that moved almost entirely online due to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden accepted the nomination in Delaware, not Milwaukee. The city used its preparations for that convention to argue to Republicans that it had a "turnkey" operation ready to host for real in 2024.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper and others expressed concerns about security, the economic trade-off of having to mostly shut down the bustling downtown except for convention activity as well as the implications of tying up city resources for the event.