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A 2024 Milwaukee DNC? It could happen — but it's a long shot

Milwaukee's incredible shrinking 2020 Democratic National Convention had already been reduced to a mere shadow of what the city had imagined before the coronavirus postponed it this summer, but today's news that even presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden won't be attending made it official: The 2020 DNC is now a Milwaukee convention in name only. Some Wisconsin officials may still give speeches from the city's convention center, but nobody else will.

“I can’t hide my disappointment” Mayor Tom Barrett said at a press briefing today. “In my mind this is a 100% virtual convention.”

And while the decision to downsize Milwaukee's 2020 convention practically out of existence was clearly warranted by the coronavirus -- and also smart politics, reinforcing the perception that Biden takes the COVID-19 crisis seriously, a key juxtaposition between him and the incumbent president -- that does little to take the sting out of the news for a city that once hoped for an economic and PR windfall from the event.

Today's final nail in the coffin for the Milwaukee DNC has some Wisconsin Democrats and local business leaders rallying behind an idea that Pabst Theater Group CEO Gary Witt has been floating since this spring: The DNC should return to Milwaukee in 2024. "DNC should commit that the convention will happen in MKE in 2024," Witt tweeted back in April. "Anything else will be a crushing blow to MKE. Cancel and rebook."

Fiserv Forum had been scheduled to host the 2020 DNC before it was scaled back and relocated to the Wisconsin Center | Photo credit: Jeffrey Phelps

VISIT Milwaukee's President Peggy Williams-Smith is mobilizing support for the idea. “I am actively working with community leaders to urge the DNC (and the RNC!) to strongly consider Milwaukee for 2024," she said in a statement. "We are all in! Milwaukee is ready to win the bid for 2024 and 2028 and beyond, and VISIT Milwaukee will be a part of those discussions and bids.”

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes also supports the idea. "We should definitely push for it and the DNC should be sympathetic to the cause," he tells Radio Milwaukee, "but I’d be lying if I said it was that easy."

The Democratic National Convention Committee wouldn't hand Milwaukee the 2024 convention as a consolation prize. As the city did in 2018, Milwaukee would have to take part in a very competitive bidding process for the convention two years from now.

While it's possible Milwaukee could once again make a strong case for hosting the convention -- it is, after all, in a key swing state -- by 2022 Democrats' circumstances will have changed. The party picks its hosting city in large part based on which city will give its presidential candidate the biggest advantage. It's unlikely that city will once again be Milwaukee.

Even Barrett, who for months had predicted that Biden would accept the nomination here this month, seems ready to concede that the city's big moment in the national spotlight now seems unlikely to happen. Asked about the possibility of a 2024 DNC in Milwaukee at today's press briefing, the mayor gave no indication of hope.

“My response to that is we are focused on now,” Barrett said.