By Will Weissert
Democrats announced Tuesday that they will hold their party’s 2024 national convention in Chicago, choosing the biggest liberal city in the Midwest as they try to keep the momentum going after a strong midterm election performance in the key battleground region.
Organizers from Chicago, Atlanta and New York spent months lobbying to be the site of the convention, but the final decision lay with President Joe Biden, who is expected to formally launch his reelection campaign in the coming weeks.
“Chicago is a great choice,” Biden, who was flying to Northern Ireland, said in a statement. “Democrats will gather to showcase our historic progress including building an economy from the middle out and bottom up, not from the top down."
The Democratic National Committee said its convention would be held Aug. 19-22 and noted that Illinois, along with Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, was part of the critical Midwestern “blue wall,” which was key to Democrats' success in the 2020 and 2022 elections. That rosy language omits the fact that Michigan and Wisconsin narrowly broke for Donald Trump in 2016, helping the Republican win the White House.
Chicago is solidly Democratic, as is Illinois. But holding the party’s presidential nominating gathering in such a pro-union city demonstrates Biden’s commitment to organized labor. The move also could counter Republicans, who are holding their 2024 convention in Milwaukee, located in another swing Midwestern state, Wisconsin.
Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna McDaniel blasted Democrats' “radical agenda” and predicted that voters "will soundly reject whichever out-of-touch liberal the Democrats nominate in Chicago.”
The convention will be held at the United Center, home to the NBA's Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL. Chicago made sense for logistical reasons, with plenty of hotel space and public transportation.
The city is also home to major Democratic donors who can help with raising money to cover costs of a convention. That includes Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire businessman and heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune who has contributed millions to Democratic causes and candidates, and was a major proponent for his city getting the convention.
The DNC said that Chicago represents the party’s diversity and “formidable coalition” and that the Midwest will “showcase President Biden’s economic agenda” including spending on public works as part of a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package that cleared Congress in 2021.
The 2020 Democratic convention was supposed to be held in Milwaukee but unfolded virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. Biden delivered a speech accepting his party’s nomination that year at a nearly empty convention center in Wilmington, Delaware.
Chicago hosted the infamous 1968 Democratic convention, which is best remembered for a brutal clash between police and protesters opposing the Vietnam War. The last Democratic National Convention in the city was in 1996, when President Bill Clinton was headed to a second term.
Pritzker promised Tuesday that the convention would be an “unforgettable event.” He had pointed to Democrats' desires to expand their Midwestern electoral gains, particularly in Michigan, where their party held the governorship and won control of both chambers of the Legislature during last fall’s midterms.
That Chicago beat out Atlanta was nonetheless a surprise given Georgia’s strategic importance as a swing state. Biden won Georgia two years ago, becoming the first Democrat to do so in a presidential election since Clinton in 1992, and his party now controls both of its Senate seats after wins that drew national attention the last two cycles.
Though Atlanta is as thoroughly Democratic as Chicago and New York, Georgia could very well be a major deciding factor in the 2024 presidential race in a way Illinois will not be.
Still, some top Democrats worried about Georgia's Republican-controlled Legislature and state laws discouraging union membership and LGBTQ rights. There were also concerns about Georgia’s relaxed firearms laws, especially given the rash of mass shootings around the country — despite gun violence being a persistent problem in Chicago.
But shunning Atlanta for the convention could ultimately serve as a double blow to Georgia, which may also eventually lose its early place in a new Democratic primary calendar.
Biden endorsed moving Georgia to the No. 4 position in a revamped Democratic primary calendar for 2024 — changes meant to better empower the party’s deeply diverse voter base than the old system, which led off with overwhelmingly white Iowa.
But Republican state officials have balked at the Democrats holding a primary on a date that doesn’t coincide with the GOP’s 2024 primary.
As Biden prepares an expected reelection campaign, he is already focused on 2024’s general election, rather than the primary, facing only token opposition from Democratic challengers Marianne Williamson, a spiritual adviser and author, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist.
New York City and state are also deeply blue in presidential races. But choosing the city for the convention might have helped Democrats in other parts of the state, its advocates said. Those other parts include Long Island, where Republican gains in key congressional districts helped the party flip the House last year.
Supporters of Atlanta’s bid had argued that the city and the rest of Georgia could help lead a resurgence of Democrats in the South, which remains largely steadfastly Republican.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said Tuesday that Biden personally called him to say that Chicago had been chosen.
“They said Atlanta was top two in all the nation, we were hoping we’d be top one,” Dickens told reporters. "But they said next time, maybe.”
UPDATES: Adds additional background on Chicago, reaction.