WASHINGTON -- Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus doesn't believe he will deliver Ohio to the next Republican presidential candidate simply by putting the party's 2016 convention in Cleveland.
But he's betting that whoever ends up the nominee will be bolstered in that critical swing state. And while he acknowledges some risk, he's confident that by scheduling the convention early on the calendar, he can shape the campaign to benefit the GOP.
"I admit to you there's really not much of a correlation between picking a host city and expecting to win the state," Priebus said in an interview with The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "But what I would say is that perhaps it hasn't been done properly. Perhaps a party, thinking things out a couple years ahead of time, can do a better job of recruiting volunteers around the event and getting enthusiasm ... that will pay off for us. Listen, I get it. I'm not blind to what the effects are, but I do think perhaps we haven't been approaching it the right way."
The RNC's Site Selection Committee, Priebus added, saw upsides in Cleveland beyond Ohio's Electoral College numbers. That the Republican Party is putting its signature event in an urban, Democratic stronghold, he said, would have political resonance across the map.
"We didn't specifically choose Cleveland because of that issue, but it would be wrong for me to say that it wasn't at least a factor in the decision," he said. "We're trying to be a party for every person in this country, which includes having, as we have started, a year-round black [voter] engagement effort. In Cleveland, I think we can help in that effort and can bolster that effort."
Priebus, speaking hours before Cleveland was officially announced as the convention host, said he sees the convention location and date as critical dominos in the GOP's 2016 plans. By hosting the event in late June or early July, the RNC aims to unshackle the nominee from the campaign finance restrictions that tripped up Mitt Romney. During the summer of 2012, the former Massachusetts governor found himself unable to spend money he had already raised because it had been given specifically for his general election fund. As the clock ticked down to the late-August convention -- after which that fund would be accessible -- the Romney campaign was forced to rely on allied super- PACs, while President Barack Obama's campaign spent freely with its larger war chest.
But campaign finance considerations aren't the only factor that convinced Priebus to move the convention date earlier. He said he wants to compress the Republican primary process as well.
"We've got a rule in our party that says that all of our primaries have to be completed within 45 days of the start of the convention," Priebus said. "So if you imagine a slide rule, I'm moving the convention forward, but I'm also moving the deadline by which all the primaries have to be complete."
As of now, there are two convention start dates under consideration. The first is June 27, Priebus' preference. The second is July 18, which the RNC would choose if, for example, the Cleveland Cavaliers were in the NBA championship ("100-1 odds," he said, barring the team signing Lebron James), or the stadium's food supplier or general counsel felt was the only workable date.
With a tightened GOP primary caused, in part, by an earlier GOP convention, Priebus also reformed something else that bedeviled Republicans in 2012. There will be far fewer primary debates in 2016.
"Regret," Priebus said, was "a good way" to describe how he feels about the 20 debates that took place during the 2012 election cycle. Already, RNC committee members have passed a measure to penalize a candidate who participates in a debate not sanctioned by the party. And while the actual number of debates will be decided by the committee, Priebus said he thinks "we're going to have somewhere south of 10 … and my guess is we're going to work with all of these media companies and outlets in helping decide who the partners will be, who the moderators will be."
Told that The Huffington Post looks forward to a turn as debate moderator, Priebus playfully and diplomatically responded by not ruling out the idea.
Priebus said he recognizes that hastening the campaign process is not without risks. A convention draws the biggest national audience to a campaign and can be a crucial catapult for the party's nominee in the election's closing months. Hosting an event in June isn't unheard of. But it is a relic of the past for a reason. The last GOP convention held in June was in 1944.
"I think you can get a bump early too, and I think you can ride a wave early and keep it going," Priebus said, when asked if he feared cresting too soon before the election. "Whether we do the convention on July 18 or August 15, I don't think it matters a whole lot. I think there's a certain benefit to going early, having a good convention, and getting on it with."
There is a more temporal fear that Priebus has, as well. The first day of the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, was cancelled because of Hurricane Isaac (attendees couldn't get around and organizers weren't particularly keen on hosting a revelrous event as coastal-dwellers saw their houses destroyed).
But while Cleveland may seem like a safe choice from a climate perspective, Priebus isn't banking on it entirely.
"A hurricane [Hurricane Gustav] delayed our convention in St. Paul in 2008," he said. "So I guess a hurricane anywhere could have an effect."
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