Exclusive: Democrats, anticipating heated primary, set earlier 2020 convention date

Democrats will hold their convention in 2020 earlier than they have in more than two decades, Democratic operatives t...

Posted: Jun 15, 2018 5:51 PM
Updated: Jun 15, 2018 5:51 PM

Democrats will hold their convention in 2020 earlier than they have in more than two decades, Democratic operatives tell CNN, partly out of anticipation of a crowded and contentious primary.

The Democratic National Convention is slated to take place from July 13 to July 16, 2020, almost two weeks earlier than the 2016 convention.

Democratic National Committee officials, including chair Tom Perez and interim DNC CEO Mary Beth Cahill, have considered a series of factors in deciding to host their biggest political event earlier than normal, party operatives tell CNN. But a key reason for the decision is the expectation the 2020 primary could be a combative affair with more than two dozen Democrats running, making it essential that the party allow more time for tensions to cool after a nominee is officially selected.

"The Democratic Party is committed to organizing everywhere and holding the convention in mid-July allows us to continue our work doing exactly that," Perez said in a statement. "My priority is to ensure that the 2020 nominating process is the most open, fair, transparent and inclusive in our party's history."

He added: "That is exactly why the DNC has started this process early and before we have a full slate of candidates running for president. This will not only allow for a unified party but will ensure that our nominee is in the strongest position to take on Donald Trump or whoever the Republican nominee may be."

By selecting the July week, the Democratic National Committee is also opting to hold their convention more than a week before the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which begins on July 24. Conventions and Summer Olympics are always on the same schedule, but past Democratic committees, like those in 2008 and 2012, have opted to go after the international sporting event, not before.

Perez and others came to this decision after reaching out to top operatives from past Democratic presidential campaigns, including Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns and Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, as well as leaders on Capitol Hill like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Perez also wanted to announce the decision before too many candidates were officially in the presidential race, operatives told CNN. The concern was if the party announced an earlier-than-normal convention while multiple candidates had already stepped into the race, some could complain that the DNC was attempting to cut off the primary early.

Democrats are currently considering eight host cities for their convention: Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Denver; Houston; Miami Beach; Milwaukee; New York; and San Francisco.

Final requests for proposals are required to be returned to the DNC Friday, party officials tell CNN.

The site of the convention often serves as either a symbolic representation of where the party hopes to perform well in the presidential run or an area that represents certain values the party is looking to project.

The 2020 convention will now be the earliest Democratic event since the 1992 gathering, which saw then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton win the party's nomination. The 1992 convention in New York was held at the same time as the 2020 convention will be.

It's the earliest convention held by either party in more than two decades.

The party out of power in the White House traditionally holds the first convention, meaning the Republican National Convention -- which is expected to be in Las Vegas, Nevada or Charlotte, North Carolina -- would come after the Democrats' mid-July event.

Leah Daughtry, a longtime Democratic operative who was CEO of the 2008 and 2016 conventions, said that the 1992 convention was an example of an early convention helping to heal the party after a contentious primary.

"Earlier conventions have historically been better for the Democratic Party," Daughtry said, "because if there has been any sort of contentiousness in the primaries, it just gives more time for people to come together."

There are also financial reasons Democratic operatives want to name a nominee earlier than normal.

An earlier convention also allows the eventual nominee to spend general election funds earlier in the race. While candidates can raise money for both their primary and general election funds during the primary, they cannot spend the general election money until they secure the nomination, according to Federal Election Commission rules.

In 2016, a candidate could raise $2,700 for the primary and $2,700 for the general from the same donor, making $5,400 the max one donor can give to a candidate in both the primary and general. That number could change for the 2020 election.

If a candidate raises money for the general but fails to secure the nomination, they most "refund, redesignate or reattribute the general election contributions" within 60 days of withdrawing from the race, according to federal election laws.

A top Democratic operative involved in the decision said the desire to allow their eventual nominee to access general election funds earlier was influential in the decision.

"We have taken into consideration the fact that we want to make sure our party is unified heading into the fall and also make sure the nominee is in the strongest position possible as they head into the general election, which includes using general election funds," the operative said.

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