MIAMI — Miami fears the fix is in.
Local Democrats increasingly believe that the Democratic National Convention in 2020 will be sited in Milwaukee, Wis., a conclusion that’s led Florida politicians, donors and insiders to mount a final lobbying blitz to turn the tide.
The last-ditch effort began in earnest in recent days as speculation mounted that Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez would pick Milwaukee, where he has both family ties and the pressure of the Democratic governors of Wisconsin and Illinois weighing on him to go with a Midwestern location.
Perez has denied making up his mind or favoring any of the three finalist cities, a shortlist that includes Houston.
Still, the state’s Democratic congressional delegation has been pressed into service to persuade him. Hotel worker unions are also making a pitch to choose Miami — labor has a greater presence in the hospitality industry here than in Milwaukee.
Miami’s stable of Democratic donors — many of whom have hosted President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton multiple times and are already being hit up by numerous Democratic presidential hopefuls — are applying their clout to the city’s bid. Some of them say they’re already leaning on potential 2020 candidates — they won’t say which ones — to get them behind Miami’s convention bid.
Underpinning Miami’s pitch: It’s the heart of the largest Democratic county in the nation’s biggest swing state. Losing Florida — which is worth 29 Electoral College votes, compared to Wisconsin’s 10 — would likely cost President Donald Trump his reelection.
“We’re making a final effort to convince the DNC that Miami is the best place to go, that this could be a boost to the nominee,” said Chris Korge, the top financier of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and a co-chair of Miami’s convention effort.
Korge said he was limited in what he could say due to a DNC request that the discussions not be made public.
Behind the scenes, the convention site selection has been a proxy fight over how the presidential campaign could play out, pitting the Rust Belt, and the white working-class voters there who deserted the party in 2016, against a diverse coastal megalopolis, where minority voter turnout will be essential to Democratic hopes in 2020.
Milwaukee officials play up their heartland connections and mild summers, contrasting those with Miami and the risk of hurricanes. It’s a talking point that irks Miami officials so much that they’ve researched historic storm data to make the case that hurricanes are a rarity in early July, when the convention would be held.
Miami officials have made a quality-of-life argument as well by claiming the accommodations in Milwaukee are so limited that California’s large delegation can’t fit in a single hotel in the city — an issue the Miami convention boosters expect to raise with California’s best-known politician, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to curry her support.
Midwest Democrats are approaching the decision with something of a chip on their shoulder. They contend Clinton snubbed Wisconsin and Michigan, and that the party needs to repair its relationship with the Midwest.
“Florida is a swing state. But we’re a swing region. The Midwest sticks together, and a convention has not been in the Midwest since 1996,” one Wisconsin official involved in the convention discussion said. “We are isolated from natural disasters. We don’t get tornadoes. We don’t get hurricanes. We don’t get earthquakes.”
As for Miami’s paranoia about Milwaukee, the official said, “they’re more confident than we are. It’s a jump ball … it seems to change every day.”
There’s a sense among Democratic insiders that Houston is out of the picture, a victim of muggier summers than Miami, a relatively small Democratic delegation and concerns about the specter of oil money funding a convention for a party that believes in climate change and scaling back fossil fuel use.
In the run-up to the final decision, the mayors of Miami and Miami Beach have reached out to each of Florida’s 13 Democratic members of Congress in Florida to get them engaged. Some have called Perez already. Rep. Donna Shalala of Miami, who was Perez’s boss when she was President Bill Clinton’s health secretary, personally spoke to him about the Miami bid at a dinner hosted by former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Paul Cejas, a major Democratic donor. A former Justice Department colleague of Perez, former South Florida U.S. Attorney Willy Ferrer, has chimed in as well.
The singer-songwriter couple Gloria and Emilio Estefan have also lent their star power and former New York Yankee Derek Jeter, now a part-owner of the Miami Marlins, has been “very eager” to help make his new club’s baseball stadium available for the convention, said a source.
Joe Falk, a major South Florida donor involved in supporting Miami’s bid, said Miami should be able to sell itself because it’s multi-ethnic, gay-friendly and a place where donors are much more likely to open their wallets than Milwaukee.
“How do you get the donor to dig deeper? Show him a good time,” Falk said. “The donors are here and we know how to treat donors. We have the facilities to make those incredibly wealthy people comfortable. And we know how to throw a good party.”
Another top Democratic donor from Miami who didn’t want to be identified said he’s already being besieged by presidential hopefuls for contributions. And he’s making sure to press the issue of Miami’s convention bid.
“If you want Florida’s support, you should support Florida. It’s a simple message,” the donor said. “You hear people say ‘Florida, Florida, Florida.’ They don’t say ‘Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Wisconsin.’ There’s a reason for that.”
But it’s not just stars, ambassadors and high-rollers helping out. UNITE HERE, a hotel-worker union, is calling Perez, DNC members and other top Democrats to boost Miami’s efforts.
“For our union in particular, it’s a no-brainer,” said Wendi Walsh, a UNITE HERE international vice president. “For this DNC, we’ve got almost 4,000 union hotel rooms here in South Florida compared to zero in Milwaukee.”
Wisconsin officials note, however, that they have a far-more union-friendly state than Florida.
Walsh, who said the public employee union AFSCME is also being engaged, said there’s a purely political dimension to the effort: “Florida matters a lot, and we want to win Florida.”
The convention would help inject a sense of energy into South Florida that could help cure the liberal bastion’s longtime turnout problems, which have led Democrats to lose recent statewide elections by about a percentage point or less, according to a Wednesday letter to Perez written by Christian Ulvert, a top Democratic consultant who has advised Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and his predecessor, Philip Levine, a co-chair of the convention effort with Korge.
Ulvert noted that Trump on Monday campaigned in Miami as part of an outreach effort to court voters of Venezuelan heritage and shore up support among Cuban-Americans.
“Republican strategy has been to maximize gains outside of South Florida and erode our support here,” Ulvert wrote. “Florida is ground zero for presidential elections — Miami-Dade is clearly ground zero for Florida.”