CHICAGO - Republicans on Friday unanimously chose Milwaukee in swing state Wisconsin for the 2024 national convention, a win for the city on the shores of Lake Michigan after its hosting of the Democratic convention in 2020 was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision in favor of Milwaukee over Nashville, announced at the Republican National Committee’s summer meeting in Chicago, was anti-climactic after Nashville essentially took itself out of the running when the city council on Tuesday rejected a draft agreement for hosting the event. That came after Democratic opposition sunk that city’s chances and the RNC’s site selection committee picked Milwaukee last month.
Milwaukee's Democratic mayor, Cavalier Johnson, joined with Reince Priebus, a former chief of staff to then-President Donald Trump, to praise the decision after it was announced in Chicago. Johnson thanked Priebus for his work in helping land the convention and said it was an example of bipartisanship that is much needed in the country.
Johnson pitched Milwaukee, known for the Brewers baseball team, Bucks basketball team, brats and beer, as a city "full of unexpected gems." He also made clear why he and so many other Democrats were eager to land the convention hosted by their political rivals.
"I want you to take all your money to Milwaukee, spend it that week, and leave it in Milwaukee," Johnson said.
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson
Priebus, who served as Wisconsin Republican Party chair before moving on to head the RNC then serving under Trump, said choosing Milwaukee was politically significant and will give Republicans a chance to spend more time in the state.
"It’s a battleground state, it matters," Priebus said. "I know sometimes we debate it, but it matters."
Wisconsin could determine who wins in 2024, while Tennessee has not backed a Democrat for president since 1996. But choosing Milwaukee is in line with recent Republican choices for the convention. For two decades, Republicans have placed their nominating convention in swing states — North Carolina, Ohio and Florida.
Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016, but lost to President Joe Biden by a nearly identical margin in 2020.
Wisconsin Republican Party Chair Paul Farrow, who was in Chicago for the RNC meeting, said having the convention in Milwaukee will "energize our base, even more, to realize we’re a very important hinge in the entire country." The winner in Wisconsin has been elected president the past four elections.
RNC announces Milwaukee will host its 2024 national convention
"I really have loved the city. But more than anything it’s been the welcoming nature of mayor Cavalier Johnson and others who have said: we can make this a collaborative event to highlight this great city, but also give you a great event with the Republican National Committee," said Ronna McDaniel, the chairperson of the RNC.
Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold, was selected to host the 2020 Democratic National Committee convention, but that moved almost entirely online due to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden accepted the nomination in Delaware, not Milwaukee. The city used its preparations for that convention to argue to Republicans that it had a "turnkey" operation ready to host for real in 2024.
"This is incredible. This is incredible. It’s excellent news for Milwaukee. This is fantastic news for Milwaukee," said Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski.
He's one of the Milwaukee city and business leaders who helped woo the Grand Old Party.
"Political conventions are watched internationally. People will see the city of Milwaukee. They are going to zoom in our skyline. They are going to come over the lake. People who don’t realize we have beaches are going to see beaches in Milwaukee," said VISIT Milwaukee’s Peggy Williams-Smith. "I am so excited that we’re going to show it to the world."
"It’s going to do a lot of good things for the city. It’s going to put the spotlight of the country and the world on Milwaukee. It’s going to open the door for future large-scale events for our economy in the future. It’s a great day," said Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson.
A Democrat welcoming Republicans to a purple state.
"I think it’s great to go to the Midwest and get back in front of those voters that won it for us in 2016 that we didn’t win in 2020. And we need to bring them back in 2024," said McDaniel.
VISIT Milwaukee spearheaded the city’s winning bid…
"Don’t make me cry. I feel amazing," said Williams-Smith
But not all in a blue city wanted to throw out the red carpet.
"Just because we host the Republican National Convention in 2024, that doesn’t mean that you’re signing up for the platform of the Republican Party. I think that Democrats have a unique opportunity here, especially Democrats in Wisconsin because you’ll have the biggest microphone in the entire world to talk about the virtues and the values of the Democratic Party," said Johnson.
"What do you say to the Democrats who say they don’t want to welcome you to the city?" asked FOX6.
"We hope we turn them around. We are planning on using city vendors. We want to make this a good economic opportunity for small businesses," said McDaniel.
Something Milwaukee looked forward to in 2020 when the Democrats chose the city. COVID-19 crushed those plans.
"Milwaukee should be proud that both political parties have picked Milwaukee to have a convention. It matters," said Reince Priebus of the RNC Milwaukee Host Committee.
Now, the city gets another shot to have the world come to Milwaukee.
So why this announcement in the Windy City? That’s because Republican National Committee members from across the country were gathering in Chicago for their summer meeting. And that decision to pick Milwaukee for the 2024 convention was unanimous.
Milwaukee Host Committee chairman Reince Priebus
"I am ecstatic that the Republican National Convention will be held in Wisconsin – a state with both electoral importance and Midwestern hospitality that will make for a fantastic event. This convention will be great for the city of Milwaukee, and will allow Republicans to bring our message directly to the Badger State. The people of Wisconsin are the best in America, and I look forward to sharing all this great city and state has to offer with my fellow conservatives as we celebrate the nomination of the next President of the United States."
Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Paul Farrow
"The Republican Party was born in Ripon, Wisconsin, and we are thrilled to welcome the Grand Old Party home as we come together to select the next President of the United States. Rightfully deemed part of America’s Heartland, the hardworking farmers, manufacturers, and families of Wisconsin are the heart of what makes our nation special, and this convention will allow us to showcase all that the Badger State has to offer to the country and the world.
"The success of this bid wouldn’t have been possible without Reince Priebus and Gerard Randall, who brought together elected officials, business owners, and community leaders of all backgrounds. Mayor Cavalier Johnson and County Executive David Crowley advocated tirelessly for the investment that this event will bring to the Cream City, and VISIT Milwaukee spared no effort in ensuring that decision-makers knew that Milwaukee was ready to host a spectacular convention. We look forward to continuing our partnership to deliver a world-class event in 2024."
Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee
"We can’t wait to welcome the Republican National Convention to Milwaukee in 2024 to show its attendees and the world Milwaukee’s world-class venues, attractions, restaurants, hotels, and all of the other amenities that make our city such a great place on a Great Lake. We’re thrilled to work with the members of the Republican National Committee, the Milwaukee Host Committee, and the City of Milwaukee to put on what we know will be the best Republican National Convention yet."
Marty Brooks, president and CEO, Wisconsin Center District
"Large-scale events are everyday business for the Wisconsin Center, Miller High Life Theatre and UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, but having the newly expanded Wisconsin Center featured on the world’s stage during the 2024 RNC is an opportunity which cannot be underestimated. The chance to deliver our signature Bold, Proud, Experience Obsessed level of service to the tens of thousands of attendees and millions of media impressions is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to earn future business for our venues and our city. I can’t wait to show the world what we all already know: Milwaukee is a sensational city with world-class hospitality, and we are ready to give RNC guests and attendees an amazing experience."
Peter Feigin, president, Milwaukee Bucks and Fiserv Forum
"We are proud for Fiserv Forum to host the Republican National Convention, which will significantly elevate the arena's profile as a world-class venue. The RNC will serve as a great symbol of future growth for Milwaukee and will continue to prominently show that our city and arena can expertly and successfully host premier events."
Tim Sheehy, president, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce
"We are proud to welcome the Republican National Convention to Milwaukee in 2024. This represents another step forward for our region as an internationally recognized destination with the people, vibrant entertainment venues, infrastructure and expertise it takes to successfully host large-scale events. We congratulate the team at VISIT Milwaukee for their leadership in securing this opportunity. It is remarkable for an American city to secure two straight major party nominating conventions – a ringing endorsement for everything Milwaukee has to offer. This convention will directly benefit Milwaukee businesses and their employees. And it’s another chance for Milwaukee to shine in an international spotlight."
Michael Evans, president, Marcus Hotels & Resorts
"It is no surprise Milwaukee is the first choice for the Republican National Convention (RNC) selection committee as there is much to love here – incredible people, gorgeous lakefront, dining for every palate, an inspiring cultural and arts scene and some of the best hotels in the country. As a company and community that have the expertise, spaces, and people to deliver truly memorable experiences, we delight in rolling out the red carpet for our visitors. Our three Milwaukee hotels – The Pfister, Hilton Milwaukee City Center and Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel – along with our restaurants, bars, and surrounding properties in southern Wisconsin, will be ready to welcome the RNC in 2024. Congratulations to Mayor Johnson, the Wisconsin delegation, VISIT Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Center District for their continued success in marketing Milwaukee as a destination of choice."
Mark Flaherty, managing partner, Jackson Street Holdings
"Jackson Street Holdings and the Marriott Collection hotels are pleased that Milwaukee has been chosen for the RNC. Great news!"
Rose Murack, general manager, Radisson Hotel Milwaukee West
"We are ‘over the top’ excited to have Milwaukee host the 2024 RNC! We, as a city, are prepared for it, ready to welcome visitors, and give everyone the best experience possible. This event will bring in thousands of people, staying in our hotels, shopping, visiting our museums, eating in our restaurants, and of course drinking in our bars. A definite moneymaker for all of us, not only Milwaukee, but all the surrounding suburbs as well will benefit from Milwaukee hosting the RNC. The long-term positive impact on our community will be far reaching as well. Welcome to Milwaukee, RNC! Great choice for the 2024 convention!
Himanshu Parikh, owner, Country Inn & Suites and Holiday Inn & Suites at Milwaukee Airport
"The 2024 RNC will give us an opportunity to showcase the development and transformation of Milwaukee over the last two decades. This conference will put Milwaukee on the map for future development and world travel. Trusting Milwaukee’s ability to host a conference of this magnitude portrays confidence and support to re-ignite hotel investments in Milwaukee and a reward to the hard work and efforts of the service industry team."
Shari Black, CEO, Wisconsin State Fair
"Milwaukeeans and Wisconsinites are humble about our great city and state because that’s in our nature, but we have world-class restaurants, amazing entertainment venues, and of course the best Fairs and Festivals in the country! This city knows how to entertain, and considering the recent resurgence of the hospitality industry, this is the perfect time to host an event like the RNC. Attendees will add even more fuel to this resurgence, which in turn will create more opportunities within the industry. The economic footprint this event creates will have a lasting impact for many years to come and we can’t wait to be part of it."
Don Smiley, chief executive officer, Milwaukee World Festival, Inc.
"For many members in our hospitality, service, and entertainment industries, hosting a monumental event like the 2024 Republican National Convention will have an unequivocal positive impact on our community. Milwaukee has a legacy of hosting large scale events, bringing the community together, and showcasing our reputation as the City of Festivals. We look forward to working with the RNC, VISIT Milwaukee and others as we welcome thousands of attendees to our great city."
Paul Bartolotta, two-time James Beard Award-Winning Chef and Owner/Co-Founder of The Bartolotta Restaurants
"With the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to excellence in hospitality and our best-in-class service to the thousands of visitors that will be experiencing our city for the first time. I’m looking forward to working with our incredible partners and the businesses that comprise the fabric of our community as we once again show why Milwaukee is the ideal destination for events taking place on the global stage."
Kurt Fogle, partner, Dairyland Old-Fashioned Hamburgers & Frozen Custard
"We should highlight Milwaukee’s potential every way we can, and at every opportunity. The RNC, like the DNC, or an all-star game, Super Bowl, or any other national championship brings us all kinds of people who otherwise might not think to visit Milwaukee. I believe if the world sees what we see, it will secure Milwaukee’s inclusion among the world-class cities."
Omar Shaikh, owner of Carnevor and co-owner/founder of 3rd Street Market Hall
"While the 2024 Republican National Convention will provide an immediate economic boost to the hospitality industry, the exposure this convention brings will benefit our city for years to come. This convention will spur growth in Milwaukee which will in turn create a stronger metro area. I couldn’t be more proud to welcome this convention to our amazing city."
Bobby Wiltgen, owner/co-founder, Cream City Concepts
"We are thrilled to be able to help showcase how amazing Milwaukee is on an international stage! As a company we have built three restaurants and five Airbnb units within a block from the Fiserv Forum. We are locally owned, putting dollars back into our local economy. Our entire team, from ownership, management and front-line staff are grateful to be able to be a part of the Great Milwaukee Narrative. This is an ongoing story of hard work, humility, dedication to our craft, and supporting our city with our hearts and souls. Speaking from my heart personally, this is all part of an American Dream that is continually unfolding for me. And I am thankful to have the chance to experience it. Having this caliber of convention Milwaukee isn’t about politics, it’s about how Milwaukee is no longer a secret when it comes to events, entertainment, dining, and tourism. I believe the Cream City Concepts team truly embodies the heart, soul, and values of Milwaukee, and we’re ready to show it for the world."
David Caruso, owner, Dynamic Events by David Caruso
"This is a game changer for our city! The positive impact on our neighborhoods, the people, and our businesses, will be immeasurable. It’s an opportunity for all of us to work together and to welcome the RNC with open arms. Get ready, Milwaukee – our moment has arrived!"
Theresa Nemetz, owner, Milwaukee Food & City Tours
"The opportunity for Milwaukee to shine during RNC not only is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our city but will have a ripple effect for years to come. Visitors as well as viewers at home will have the chance to explore Milwaukee and return for more in-depth vacations with their families and corporate meetings with their clients in the future. Whether our role with RNC will be to provide transportation, tours, or logistical support, we cannot wait to welcome RNC delegates and attendees to Milwaukee in 2024."
Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC)
The community of Milwaukee spoke. Neighbors, business owners, folks of all race, ideology, and identity, spoke as one voice. But city, and state officials had another plan and heard only their own voices. The vision they shared for the RNC in Milwaukee was one of bliss and progress—but it couldn’t be further from the truth. For too long, elected officials have had money prioritized over the lives and wellbeing of the community. Decisions made purely from a financial standpoint with no consideration for the very foundation of our city, its people. It appears despite a new administration, the legacy of poor decision making persists.
The Republican party has welcomed with open arms groups that actively message anti-black, antisemitic, queerphobic and other harmful rhetoric. The allowance of the RNC into the city of Milwaukee in 2024 will make us feel unsafe and unwelcome in our own communities. We have read and heard firsthand the opinions of Republicans around the state in regard to Milwaukee. They have used coded language and dog whistles to paint Milwaukee in a bad light. We are calling for our elected officials to begin to take into account what is best not only from a financial standpoint, but the view of what is best for all of Milwaukee residents and communities.
The tourism boost officials claim is not the type of tourism we should want to see. There is no justifiable motivation or reason for elected officials to allow our city to be used as a talking point or pawn in a political strategy by people who do not care about Milwaukee. We will continue to stand with grassroots partners—Voces De La Frontera Action, labor partners—SEIU and others, to uplift the needs and priorities of our communities and peoples.
Associated Press contributed to this report.