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GOP Will Convene in Battleground

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The GOP has chosen the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul for its 2008 presidential convention, Republicans announced Wednesday.

In choosing the Gopher State’s metropolitan center, the party passed over New York City, Cleveland, and a joint bid from Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla., and signaled that the upper Midwest could be a focus of Republican efforts to hold the White House in two years.

The selection pre-empts Democrats, who also were considering Minneapolis-St. Paul for their convention. Though the parties occasionally have held their conventions in the same city, Democratic Party rules now dictate that they hold their confab in a separate location, a DNC official said.

That means Democrats now must choose between the remaining two finalists, New York and Denver. That decision is expected in coming weeks. The two conventions are scheduled to be held within days of each other.

In a conference call, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said, “The fact is [Minneapolis] is likely to be the place the next president of the United States is introduced to the American people.”

Political observers immediately began to speculate about the selection’s meaning for Republican strategy during the next presidential campaign.

Minnesota, with a modest 10 electoral votes, hasn’t backed a GOP presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972. But margins in the state have narrowed, and it was a key battleground in the 2004 election, with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) carrying it by just 3 points.

By convening in Minnesota, Republicans also would be able to reach media markets in Iowa and Wisconsin, several observers noted.

“I think it’s the new Minnwisiowa of politics,” said Sarah Janecek of the online newsletter Politics in Minnesota.

Blois Olson, of the same publication, said Republicans “think they can win Minnesota. They want to show their strength here.”

Minnesota lawmakers from both parties welcomed the news as well as the expected economic boon it promises. But they were divided about the impact the convention is likely to have on regional politics.

Republican Rep. John Kline said the event will help throw the region into play. “It’s going to help bring attention to a very important part of the country,” he said.

But retiring Democratic Rep. Martin Sabo predicted that any Republican candidate will have a hard time in the state.

“I think the Bush legacy will have an impact on the 2008 elections,” he said. “He’s not very popular in Minnesota.”

Lobbyist David Norcross, a partner at Blank Rome, was one of eight members on the RNC’s site selection committee. He said the committee took its vote Wednesday morning at the RNC’s offices.

Norcross said the region’s Xcel Energy Center, where the main festivities will be held, stood out as a key factor in the decision. “It is state of the art,” said Norcross, who served as chairman of the committee on arrangements for the Republican National Convention in 2004 in New York City.

“The media work space is really really spectacular. It’s all very impressive.” Norcross said now Republicans will “begin to negotiate the finer points” of holding the convention in the Twin Cities.

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