Delaware’s 2016 speculation all about Biden

By Jonathan Starkey, The News Journal

Democrats have chosen Philadelphia to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and that decision comes with side benefits for Delaware.

The convention will be held the week of July 25, party leaders said. Philadelphia and Democratic Party officials signed a contract Thursday morning.

Convention events, including the nomination of the party’s presidential candidate, will be staged in the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Philadelphia Flyers.

Delaware hotels are likely to see significant business with thousands of visitors and delegates from across the country flocking to the area. Visitors filled hundreds of New Castle County hotel rooms in 2000 when Republicans held their national convention in Philadelphia.

“This is honestly bigger than the pope,” said Bill Sullivan, a board member at the Delaware Hotel and Lodging Association who manages the Courtyard Newark at the University of Delaware, where he teaches hospitality classes.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Philadelphia in September. That trip is expected to generate a wealth of bookings for Delaware hotels. But convention business will top that, Sullivan said.

“There’s more people coming, and they come in groups by state,” he said. “They will take over a whole hotel.”

Philadelphia beat out New York and Columbus, Ohio, to host the convention.

The National Democratic Party chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, noted that Philadelphia offers a rich historic backdrop for convention events. Independence Hall, where the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence were signed, is a short trip from the convention site.

“Philadelphia’s deep-rooted place in American history provides a perfect setting for this special gathering,” Schultz said.

Delaware hotels were booked with delegates, visitors and political VIPs in 2000 when Republicans nominated President George W. Bush in Philadelphia, said Priscilla Rakestraw, longtime national committeewoman for the Delaware GOP.

Rakestraw said party leaders housed top donors at the Hotel du Pont in downtown Wilmington.

“I loved Philadelphia,” Rakestraw said. “It was a great experience. I wish the Democratic party and their delegates well.”

Delaware Republican Party chair Charlie Copeland called Philadelphia a “terrific” city but had few kind words for Democrats.

“It’s going to take a lot of convention blue smoke and mirrors to weave a tapestry out of the Democrats’ fibers of failure,” Copeland said in a written statement to party supporters.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Philadelphia offers an ideal setting for the convention. Coons also celebrated the site’s proximity to Delaware.

“I hope that having the convention so close will also mean that more Delawareans will get involved,” Coons said in emailed statements. “There will be lots of opportunities for Delawareans not only to volunteer at the convention, but to attend events and debate ideas and really take a more active part in our democracy. That’s pretty exciting.”

Even Delaware students could benefit from having the national political convention nearby.

“It’s great for us,” said Paul Brewer, professor and research director in the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication. “It will be a great active learning opportunity for our students to get involved in visiting the convention, and maybe interning at the convention.”

In an emailed statement, Democratic Gov. Jack Markell, who spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, called Philadelphia “a great city in which to nominate the 45th President of the United States.”

“I’m sure the entire Philadelphia-Wilmington region will be wonderfully hospitable for convention guests and show off the many wonderful things to do in our area,” Markell said.

For Delaware, the convention will come during an open race for governor. On the Democratic side, Beau Biden, the eldest son of Vice President Joe Biden who delivered nominating speeches at the 2008 and 2012 national conventions, has announced plans to seek the governor’s office.

The vice president, who visited Iowa on Thursday for a roundtable discussion on education, has yet to rule out a repeat run for president next year. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is considered a front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

Rhett Ruggerio, a Legislative Hall lobbyist and former national committeeman for the Delaware Democratic Party, said the convention in Philadelphia would mean tourism dollars for Delaware, sponsorship opportunities for Delaware businesses and visibility for the state Democratic party. Ruggerio served as a super delegate to the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver. “I think you’ll see our entire party establishment make an effort to get up there and show their colors,” Ruggerio said.

Delaware Democratic National Committeeman Bob Gilligan, the former state House speaker, joked that traveling to Philadelphia is “cheaper than flying to Charlotte.”

“It will give us some visibility,” Gilligan said.

Contact Jonathan Starkey at (302) 983-6756, on Twitter @jwstarkey or at