Why L.A. Could Host Dems in 2020 (and Why It Shouldn't)

Why L.A. Could Host Dems in 2020 (and Why It Shouldn't)
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File
Why L.A. Could Host Dems in 2020 (and Why It Shouldn't)
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File
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For decades now, America’s two political parties have approached their national conventions with a Realtor’s mindset: “location, location, location.” But with all due respect to Sam Cooke, voters don’t know much geography -- or seem to factor it into their decisions.

Not since 1992 have both parties carried the respective home states of their conventions’ host cities. (In 2016, Donald Trump was nominated in Cleveland and later won Ohio; Hillary Clinton accepted her party’s mantle in Philadelphia, only to lose Pennsylvania.)

In theory, this should free both parties to convene wherever they darn well please in the summer of 2020, swing states, image-branding and electoral votes be damned. For Republicans, if their likely nominee has any say, the natural fit would seem to be President Trump’s backyard of Manhattan. It could be the Big Apple by default – cities such as Nashville reportedly don’t want the drama of a Trump convention.

And the Democrats?

According to CNN, eight cities have expressed an interest in hosting the party’s 2020 national convention: Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; Denver; Houston; Miami Beach; Milwaukee; New York; and San Francisco. Missing from the list is one metropolis that could make a compelling case if it chose to: Los Angeles.

America’s second-largest city capably hosted the 2000 Democratic National Convention, and though Al Gore didn’t fare any better than Hillary Clinton, there’s a better historical tie-in for Democrats: 2020 will mark the 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy giving his acceptance speech outdoors at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In 2008, Barack Obama channeled JFK by holding his coronation al fresco in Denver. And think of all the save-the-planet celebrities who wouldn’t need to gas up their private jets if the convention were held in Tinseltown. A convention at Staples Center or the new NFL stadium being built in Inglewood (assuming it’s open by then) would only be a Tesla or BMW i3 spin away from Malibu.

In a city driven by star power, there’s another consideration: An Angeleno may have a lead or supporting role on the Democrats’ next national ticket. Think of the party’s presidential field as a Hollywood cattle call, with two Los Angeles residents especially pushy. When she’s not showing up on “Ellen,” kicking around Trump Country or building an online army, California Sen. Kamala Harris is refusing to deliver this year’s commencement address at UC-Berkeley out of respect to a campus union workers’ strike. This was music to the ears of Democratic labor activists.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is no less subtle. He’s the lone 2020 wannabe to deliver a commencement address in New Hampshire this spring, at Southern New Hampshire University, a school with its frozen tuition and non-requirement of SATs that passes the liberal PC litmus test with flying colors. When Garcetti isn’t visiting early-primary states, he’s finding ways to bring the mountain to Mohammed. In one example, he hosted a fundraiser earlier this month in his hometown on behalf of the South Carolina Democratic Party. You read that right. What is Garcetti selling to the visitors from the Southeast? Look no further than his ambitious fifth State of the City Address, given a month ago fresh off a mayoral visit to Iowa. At nearly 7,900 words, the mayor’s speech was more verbose than all but one of the past six decades’ worth of presidential State of the Union Addresses.

Garcetti touted tuition-free community colleges, a higher minimum wage, 11,000 miles of repaved roads, 220,000 new businesses in the past five years (a thriving start-up climate gets you that), tens of thousands of green jobs, expanded rail lines and the Summer Olympics on the way in 2028. In other words, progressive nirvana. He also addressed the elephant in the room – and a reason why Democrats might be wise to avoid Los Angeles (and San Francisco, for that matter) for now: homelessness.

At present, Los Angeles’ unsheltered homeless population is estimated to surpass 25,000 street dwellers – in early-primary terms, the equivalent of the eighth-largest city in New Hampshire, the seventh-largest city in Nevada, or a top-20 city in either Iowa or South Carolina.

Amid L.A.’s glamour and glitz, it’s a photo op tailor-made for opposition researchers (think back to the 1988 election and how the Bush-Quayle campaign rediscovered Boston Harbor in all its polluted glory. Small wonder that Garcetti has steered a record $430 million of the city’s $9.9 billion budget to solving L.A.’s homeless problem and has pledged to get half of that population into shelters or housing by 2022. Just in case you doubt hizzoner’s sincerity: The photo that greets a visitor to the mayor’s official website shows him comforting a soul on L.A.’s notorious Skid Row.

Los Angeles isn’t the only California tourism magnet with ugly optics. Up north in San Francisco, the city collects about 275,000 used syringes off its streets each month. This is probably not a battle San Francisco can win considering that the city distributes about 400,000 syringes over the same stretch under its needle-exchange program. In a place known for its dizzying insta-wealth, haute cuisine, scenic vistas and exorbitant housing, one in 38 San Franciscans also happens to be an intravenous drug user.

How tempting it would be for Democrats to bring their show to California in 2020, especially if it’s a native son or daughter receiving the top honor. But San Francisco, with its kneejerk, almost militant defiance of all things Trump, is arguably the most polarizing city in America.

And Los Angeles? The skies are blue, the beaches are post-card pretty and the celebrities are plentiful. But with a homelessness problem that is equal parts eyesore and policy headache, the City of Angels fails the Nora Desmond standard as a convention host city: Two years from now, it still may not be ready for its close-up.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow who follows California and national politics, and host of Hoover’s “Area 45” podcast on the Trump presidency. He can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.


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