The Real Winners From Having the Convention in L.A.


Any day now, the Democratic Party is expected to announce that its 2000 national convention will be held in Los Angeles. That’s great. It’s great for the city and it’s great for the delegates.

But it doesn’t mean beans for the nominee’s prospects of carrying California in the November election.

You can look it up in the history books.

Spare us that tired analogy: the one about California being “the 800-pound gorilla”--clutching 54 electoral votes, the biggest stash in the nation, one-fifth the number needed to capture the presidency. Yeah, so?


So if a party is nice and holds its convention here, we’ll return the favor by voting for its presidential candidate? Sorry. Doesn’t work that way.

It’s a myth that refuses to die, even though it consistently has been debunked by fact.

“There’s absolutely no relationship between holding a convention in this state and who the people vote for,” notes political analyst Tony Quinn. “None. Zero. Zilch.”


Six major party conventions have been held in California. Only once has the nominee then carried the state--President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, when he was running for reelection and Republicans staged their convention in San Francisco. That year, the GOP could have convened in Guam and popular Ike would have carried California.

Remember the 1996 Republican convention in San Diego? That did nominee Bob Dole a whole lot of good. He barely carried San Diego County and got trounced across the state.

“The convention didn’t do much for Dole,” recalls his California campaign director, Ken Khachigian. “People in San Diego probably got ticked off because it was disruptive.”

The 1984 Democrats in San Francisco? A Republican blowout for President Ronald Reagan. In 1964, Republican Barry Goldwater got creamed in California after being nominated in San Francisco. Back in antiquity, 1920, Democrats anointed James Cox in San Francisco and Californians rejected him by nearly 3 to 1.

Los Angeles’ one convention didn’t generate a California victory either. In 1960, Democrats in Los Angeles nominated John F. Kennedy, who then narrowly lost the state to native son Richard Nixon.

“Did anyone stop and say, ‘I’m going to vote for Kennedy because he had that wonderful convention in the Coliseum?’ Not 25 people,” says political consultant Joe Cerrell, a California delegation official in 1960. “Next year, are people going to say, ‘I’m voting for the ‘Gore-blank’ ticket because Democrats brought $150 million into the region?’ Probably not.”

Those delegate dollars are one reason why the convention is a good deal for L.A., however. Another is that L.A. can show off its best side on national TV.

“You know what the image is of this city in the East--earthquakes, civil disturbances, the Simpson trial,” notes billionaire businessman Eli Broad, a co-chairman of the convention effort. “If you wanted to buy this kind of exposure for L.A., you couldn’t--and if you could, it would cost a bloody fortune.”

An L.A. convention also is a good deal for delegates. Even on its smoggiest day, the City of Angels is a paradise compared to muggy New York or Chicago.


Broad, in pitching the party, further argues that an L.A. convention will prod local TV--which usually ignores politics--into delivering the Democrats’ daily message to 14 million Southlanders. But how much can viewers stand beyond normal network telecasts? Local coverage probably will consist of showing traffic tie-ups and celebrities entering the convention hall, a la Oscar night.

No, there’s only one political reason for Democrats to hold their convention in Los Angeles. And that’s Eli Broad himself--along with his fellow convention organizers: DreamWorks executive David Geffen and lawyer William Wardlaw. They very much want an L.A. convention. And they’ve raised many millions for the party in recent years; Broad has funneled about $4 million himself.

It’s payback time. The party can’t expect these guys--and other big-time L.A. donors--to keep on being an ATM but not a convention host.

Broad also makes another good point:

“In Southern California, we’ve got literally hundreds of people who have become multimillionaires in recent years--through entertainment, high-tech, multimedia--but they have not been givers. Having a convention and getting them involved will stand the Democratic Party in good stead in the future. This is a fertile group to start a new generation of contributors.”

That’s how Democrats really will benefit by meeting in L.A. Forget that other conventional wisdom.