Southern Democrats are fuming over their party’s decision to hold its 2024 national convention in Chicago instead of Atlanta, seeing the move as a slight against a city and state that helped deliver Democrats both the White House and their current Senate majority.
In the lead-up to the decision, Atlanta’s boosters aggressively lobbied President Biden and his allies for hosting rights, playing up the city as the cradle of the civil rights movement and hammering the importance of Georgia — and the South more broadly — as a critical emerging battleground for Democrats.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced on Tuesday, however, that Chicago would host the 2024 gathering, elevating a liberal city near the center of the so-called “blue wall” states of the upper Midwest and siding with union leaders who had opposed Atlanta as the host site because of Georgia’s contentious history with organized labor.
“It feels a little bit like a slap in the face,” one Georgia Democratic operative said. “You know, there’s a lot that goes into this — hotels and transportation and all that. But there’s the symbolism to consider too, and I think it would have been a strong statement to say, ‘Hey, Georgia has delivered for us, and we’re not taking that for granted.’”
The Democratic National Committee’s decision to give the convention to Chicago was a massive blow to Georgia Democrats, who thought Atlanta was the favorite to host the quadrennial gathering in the days leading up to the announcement.
For months, Atlanta’s boosters worked to assure Biden and Democratic officials that the city was prepared for the event. They secured more than $20 million in financial commitments from donors and corporations and leaned heavily on an argument that it was Georgia that handed Democrats their current power in Washington.
A January letter to Biden from more than 65 current and former Democratic federal, state and local officials in the South put that argument into stark relief, telling the president that “everything we have accomplished as a party since January of 2021 can be traced back to Georgia, and specifically, to the metro Atlanta area which swung the state in our favor.”
“Democratic turnout in the state of Georgia is the single greatest reason that you and Vice President Harris are in the White House today instead of Donald Trump and it is the single greatest reason why Democrats have maintained a majority in the United States Senate,” the letter said.
Indeed, it was Sens. Jon Ossoff’s (D-Ga.) and Raphael Warnock’s (D-Ga.) back-to-back victories in Georgia just over two years ago that handed Democrats control of the Senate. Georgia also helped put Biden in the White House in 2020, marking the first time since 1992 that a Democratic presidential candidate carried the state.
“We’ve won three Senate seats in two years. We are doing the work, and we need the Democratic Party to just get out of this mindset that the South is this kind of bastion of conservatism, when that is not at all the case,” one Georgia Democrat said.
Kendra Cotton, the CEO of the New Georgia Project Action Fund, said that she was “disappointed” by the decision to give the convention to Chicago, especially given the critical role Georgia played in Biden’s 2020 presidential bid.
“In 2020 and again in 2022, Georgia proved our status as a key battleground state, and any candidate, campaign or political party should keep that in mind as we head into next year,” Cotton said.
One of the obstacles to Atlanta’s selection was a lobbying effort by the AFL-CIO to pass on the city, penning a letter to DNC leadership arguing that the city had too few union-backed hotels to support the convention with two “upscale” properties.
“This is nowhere near enough to meet delegates’ needs. Union delegates and guests who choose union hotels as a matter of conscience would need to compete over limited rooms. Not every state delegate and visitor who wanted to show labor solidarity would be able to do so,” the letter reads, also calling the price point of the hotels a burden for some.
“We are proud to represent members in Georgia and recognize the great cultural and political value of Atlanta, as well as the civil rights legacy and ongoing work for racial justice being led by activists throughout the state. But the importance of having many union hotels for a Democratic convention is well known, and the city has done nothing during its long convention bid to address the problem.”
That struck a sour note with Georgians who say the union undercut a state where Democrats have made significant gains under largely Republican state-level leadership.
“That feels just really disingenuous because you’re punishing people who work really hard for the Democratic Party because their state has really crushed the union movement,” the Georgia Democrat said. “And to say that because the city of Atlanta didn’t do enough to magically create unions or union hotels overnight, that they should be disqualified, it’s just insulting. It’s insulting to organizers across the South who live in states where Republicans want to destroy the union movement.”
“How are we supposed to build a union movement in the South if union organizers veto national events where we can build that network? It’s really a double standard.”
The AFL-CIO declined to comment.
There were other factors that nudged Democratic leaders toward Chicago: the city’s proximity to the “blue wall,” the United Center and its nearby hotels and restaurants, and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) promise to help pay for the convention costs, which could run as high as $90 million.
Despite the disappointment out of Georgia, Democrats pledged to move forward, insisting that the Chicago convention wouldn’t change the trajectory of their work in Georgia. Following Tuesday’s announcement, Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), the chair of the state Democratic Party, said that she was disappointed by the decision but held that Georgia would “remain the center of the political universe in 2024.”
“Driven by the strength of our richly diverse coalition of voters, Georgia has become the country’s premier battleground state, delivering historic wins for Democrats and changing the trajectory of our entire nation,” she said. “Georgia represents the future of the Democratic Party — and we will continue to invest in that future by working to elect Democrats up and down the ballot in 2024.”