Mark Duncan / AP
Tuesday, July 8, 2014 | 9:03 a.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Cleveland won the backing of a Republican National Committee panel on Tuesday, all but guaranteeing the GOP's 2016 presidential pick will accept the party's nomination in perennially hard-fought Ohio.
The Republicans' site selection committee backed Cleveland over Dallas, and the full 168-member RNC is expected to ratify the choice next month. The move signals the role Ohio — and its 18 electoral votes— plays in presidential campaigns.
"As goes Ohio, so goes the presidential race," said party Chairman Reince Priebus.
The RNC did not announce a start date for the convention but Priebus said that June 27 or July 18, 2016, are the two options under consideration.
Paying for the convention was the top criterion for the 12-member site selection committee. The previous two GOP conventions have sapped party dollars during election years, and Priebus insisted the host city not leave the central party picking up the tab, which is expected to be around $60 million.
In proposals and presentations to the party, Cleveland pledged to raise the tens of millions of dollars required to pay for the weeklong rally for the party faithful. A successful convention is a boon not just to the political party, but also to the local economy.
In a post-convention report, organizers of Tampa, Florida's 2012 GOP convention said its $58 million in fundraising resulted in a $214 million direct economic impact. Some 50,000 activists, officials and reporters descended on the Tampa area for the convention, officials said. More journalists visited Tampa for the GOP convention in 2012 than visited in 2009 when Tampa hosted the Super Bowl.
That economic impact was one reason cities competed for months to host the convention.
Organizers earlier eliminated bids from Denver; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri; Las Vegas and Phoenix.
After Las Vegas was no longer in play, Dallas emerged as a major competitor, in part because of its coalition of wealthy donors with ties to the Bush family and the oil industry. Dallas hosted the 1984 Republican convention, and Texas is seen as a reliably GOP state in presidential elections.
But Cleveland has made an aggressive — and persuasive — pitch to host Republicans on the shores of Lake Erie.
"I've got to tell you: if you haven't been to Cleveland lately, it's a real surprise how beautiful is down by that lake," Priebus said in announcing the decision on the Fox News Channel.
Ohio's allure as a political prize proved tempting. No Republican has captured the White House without Ohio since Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The last candidate to win the White House without Ohio was John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, in 1960.
"Republicans have clearly seen that Ohio is the great prize in presidential races," Texas-based Republican strategist Joe Brettell said.
In addition to the finances, officials are focused on each city's transportation and hotel plans. Tampa's convention forced many delegates — including major donors — into hotels an hour from the convention site and was reliant on buses.
Timing, too, is a factor for officials.
Priebus wants the convention scheduled for early summer of 2016, roughly two months sooner than has become the norm. That would give the GOP's next presidential nominee quicker access to tens of millions of dollars in general election cash.
Democrats, meanwhile, are on their own timeline for picking a venue. Democratic National Committee officials will begin site visits with a stop July 21 in Birmingham, Alabama. Other cities in contention are New York City; Philadelphia; Columbus, Ohio; and Phoenix.
Cleveland was a choice for Democrats, too. But if the full RNC ratifies Cleveland as its choice as expected, Democrats will drop Cleveland as an option.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is expected to announce a host city either late this year or early in 2015.
Peoples reported from Boston. Associated Press writer Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.