In the end, the heart of rock 'n' roll got the nod.
A Republican National Committee panel recommended yesterday that the party's 2016 national convention go to Cleveland over Dallas, putting to rest months of lobbying by both cities to land the coveted event.
"I think you're going to have to scrape some of us off the ceiling," joked an overjoyed Robert T. Bennett, a former Ohio GOP chairman.
In recommending that Republicans hold their convention in Cleveland, the RNC's site-selection committee chose flexibility over cash, a swing state over a deep-red one, and a grand narrative: a city on the rebound.
What all that means for Columbus' bid to land the 2016 Democratic National Convention is unclear.
Cleveland worked with the RNC to offer a June start date for the GOP convention, while Dallas was able to offer access to the American Airlines Center only in July because of concern that the Dallas Mavericks might be in the NBA playoffs then.
RNC officials hope to hold their convention earlier in the summer to give their presidential nominee a longer window to raise money for the general election in November.
Last week, RNC officials swept into Cleveland to make sure it would be technically possible for the city to hold the convention even if the Cleveland Cavaliers were in the NBA playoffs in June 2016. Cleveland officials had offered space between Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, and Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cavs, to allow for critical setup work for a June convention if needed.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told Fox News yesterday that a Cleveland convention could occur in June or July, and sources said Cleveland's flexibility mattered to the committee.
"Date trumps money in this situation," said Phillip Jones, CEO of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Ohio lobbied for the convention by trotting out something that state Republicans love to remind the national party: No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio. They argued that putting the convention in a swing state might energize otherwise-uninterested voters and attract energy -- and, ideally, votes -- to the GOP ticket.
Dallas, meanwhile, argued that its conservative credentials would energize the party's base.
As for the narrative, Cleveland is widely considered to be undergoing a renaissance, with its downtown thriving and thousands of hotel rooms added since 2008.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he thinks that one reason Cleveland was selected is because it has a story to tell.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges said the GOP could tell the story of a state that chose GOP leadership that has worked -- specifically, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is up for re-election this year.
"This is truly a wonderful opportunity to highlight the type of common-sense Republican leadership that can continue moving our state, and our country, forward," said U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester.
But in the end, it was both parties that welcomed the GOP to Cleveland. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, a Democrat, cleared his schedule to accommodate the RNC site-selection committee during its visits. Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald was an ardent supporter of the city's bid -- Borges recalled sitting next to FitzGerald at a meeting about the bid. And Portman took pains to thank both Jackson and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who sent out a joint statement with Portman supporting both the Republican and Democratic conventions coming to Ohio.
"This isn't about being a Democrat or Republican," said Brown. "This is about bringing jobs to northeast Ohio and ensuring that our region's economy continues to grow -- with the focus of the country, and even world, on Ohio once again."
The Republican establishment in Ohio rallied as well. Kasich was a fervent proponent, and Boehner released a video supporting Cleveland's bid. Portman did as well, and spoke with Priebus last week.
The RNC "just felt so warmly embraced by Cleveland, so welcomed by them," said Portman.
Said former Ohio Gov. and U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio: "I'm glad I lived long enough to see it."
The recommendation will launch formal negotiations between the GOP and the city, with everything contingent on those going well.
The recommendation also must receive a vote by the full RNC; it meets Aug. 6-9 in Chicago. The RNC has traditionally deferred to the recommendation of the site-selection committee, according to those close to the process.
Cleveland and Columbus are among the six cities the Democratic National Committee plans to visit beginning later this month, but yesterday's news seemed to signal the end of Cleveland's bid for the Democrats' convention.
A spokeswoman for the DNC said the party has an exclusivity clause for national conventions that is triggered when a city signs a contract with another political party. Cleveland has yet to sign a contract with the Republicans.
As for Columbus' bid: JobsOhio has committed $10 million to the GOP-convention bid; it's uncertain whether JobsOhio would be able to spend a similar amount on a bid for the Democrats' convention. Birmingham, Ala., Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Phoenix also are vying for the event.
The 2016 GOP convention will be Cleveland's third major-party convention. It was the site of the Republican conventions in 1924 and 1936.
Cincinnati was the site of the Democratic conventions in 1856 and 1880 and the Republican convention in 1876.
"Americans are going to fall in love with the new Ohio," Kasich said.
Portman eyes White House?
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman may be interested in more than just Cleveland getting the GOP convention. The Washington Post reported last night that Portman might like a starring role, perhaps as his party's presidential nominee.
"I'm not particularly eager to do it myself, and having been involved in six presidential campaigns, I know what it's like," Portman, 58, said in his Capitol office. "But if nobody running is able to win and willing to address these issues, then I might have a change of heart."
Portman said he has been contemplating a 2016 presidential bid for some time, although in his past public statements he indicated he was focused mainly on the GOP regaining control of the Senate this year.
Portman's swing-state roots, legislative and executive experience and support for same-sex marriage could make him a favorite of the Republican Party's establishment, especially if former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush decides to sit out the race.
Portman said he would not make a final decision until later this year or early 2015.
"Let's see what happens, let's see who runs," he said. "For the moment, I'm up for re-election in Ohio, so that's my plan."
By Jessica Wehrman - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
Dispatch Reporters Joe Vardon and Alan Johnson and The Washington Post contributed to this report.
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services