Nashville council axes GOP convention bid; Milwaukee in line

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FILE - The Nashville, Tenn. downtown area and the Cumberland River are shown on Sept. 27, 2011. A bid to bring the 2024 Republican National Convention to Nashville has hit a roadblock in the Democratic-leaning city's metro council, where opposition has led proponents to withdraw a proposed agreement about how to host the event. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nashville's metro council has dealt a likely final blow to proponents of bringing the 2024 Republican National Convention to the city, leaving Milwaukee as the almost-certain winner to host the GOP's biggest party.

The council of the reliably Democratic city in a Republican southern state voted Tuesday night to spike a bill that would have set up a draft agreement for hosting the event. In the 40-person council, 10 members voted for the convention deal and 22 voted against it.

The RNC's site selection panel recommended last month that Milwaukee host the event after the Nashville council withdrew its proposed agreement to host the presidential nominating convention. A revived push for Nashville fared no better.

Milwaukee is also a Democratic stronghold, but, despite some mixed feelings, it approved a similar framework in June that runs through the logistics of hosting it there.

Whether and how Tennessee's Republican legislators take aim at Nashville in response to the RNC rejection remains to be seen.

GOP House Speaker Cameron Sexton dismissed the city’s leadership on Wednesday as “the most progressive, liberal council in America” for voting down the convention, but said any “decisions about metro Nashville” can wait until the next legislative session starts in January. He said he’s “certain there will be ample discussions on this issue.”

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said the vote shows Nashville leaders “do not wish to serve as ambassadors for our state.” Republican Gov. Bill Lee's spokesperson, Casey Black, said the council vote was a “real shame,” calling the convention a "major economic opportunity."

Nashville Mayor John Cooper and others expressed concerns about security, the economic trade-off of having to mostly shut down the bustling downtown except for convention activity as well as the implications of tying up city resources for the event.

Some progressive leaders went further, arguing that hosting the massive Republican gathering would go against the city’s values. Several council members wrote an open letter to state GOP chairman Scott Golden in June asking if Tennessee Republicans plan to remain “outwardly hostile” to Nashville's efforts to be a welcoming economic driver for the state while managing the city’s massive growth.

Republicans split the city into three districts that wend into rural areas hoping to flip what has been a Democratic seat; passed a near-total ban that forced the city's Planned Parenthood clinic to stop offering abortions; and imposed many laws targeting the city, including a school voucher program applicable in just two areas that are both Democratic, Nashville and Memphis’ Shelby County.

Councilman Robert Swope, who sponsored the GOP convention proposal, questioned on Tuesday which groups the city might deny next.

“The real and present danger of not supporting this ordinance is the international damage that saying 'no' will do to Nashville’s stellar, welcoming and inclusive reputation,” Swope said.

For two decades, Republicans have placed their nominating convention in swing states — North Carolina, Ohio and Florida. Trump won his presidential contests decisively in Tennessee. He narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016, but lost to Biden by a nearly identical margin in 2020.

Milwaukee hosted the Democrats' 2020 convention, but the coronavirus pandemic forced that meeting to be held nearly entirely online, and Joe Biden accepted the nomination in Delaware.

Wisconsin could determine who wins in 2024, while Tennessee has not backed a Democrat for president since 1996.