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A Look Back At The 3 Times Kansas City Hosted National Political Conventions

The Republican National Committee is eyeing Kansas City as a potential site for the 2016 Republican National Convention, and after a visit last week, the delegates’ first impressions seem positive.

The committee likely won’t release its decision until August, but with Kansas City buzzing at the prospect of another national convention, we thought it would be a good time to look back at the previous times Kansas City played host to national political conventions.

The two major political parties started holding national conventions in the mid-1800s. Kansas City hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1900, and the Republican National Convention in 1928 and 1976.

Here’s a closer look at each of the conventions:

July 4-6, 1900 — Democratic National Convention, Convention Hall:

William Jennings Bryan, who later played a key role in the Scopes Monkey Trial, earned the Democratic presidential nomination with little competition at this convention. Adlai Stevenson was nominated as Bryan's running mate, but the pair ultimately lost to William McKinley in the 1900 election. 

The original Convention Hall at 13th and Central, built with the intention of hosting the convention, was finished in early 1899. On April 4, 1900, just three months before the delegates and visitors were set to descend on Kansas City , a fire destroyed the building. In a massive effort, Convention Hall was redesigned and rebuilt just in time for the convention. Local and national newspapers touted the accomplishment as evidence of the "Kansas City spirit." Almost 28 years later, the city's resilience after the tragedy was used again to draw the Republicans.

June 12-15, 1928 — Republican National Convention, Convention Hall: 

Writing for The Outlook, Henry F. Pringle describes Kansas City during this convention as a place where, “Street cars battle and bang across intersecting tracks,” and, “traffic policemen swear at unsuspecting visitors who are not aware that jay-walking is forbidden by law.” 

With nearly perfect weather greeting delegates and visitors, the 1928 RNC went off seemingly without a hitch. Herbert Hoover and Charles Curtis were nominated, and eventually won the election during the Great Depression. This was the last national convention that would be held in the Convention Hall, which was demolished when Municipal Auditorium was built in 1935. 

August 16-19, 1976 — Republican National Convention, Kemper Arena:

The decision to hold the RNC at Kemper Arena brought mixed reactions, as the West Bottoms were nearly vacant at the time. Still, spirits were high, with a Harper's magazine article describing it as, "Prime-time bacchanalia."

One issue of concern was the lack public transportation options, something the city is dealing with again as they make their case for 2016.

"The Convention Host Committee and Republican party's Arrangements Committee are pleased so far with the smoothness of pre-convention activity," Henry Clay Gold wrote in the Kansas City Times. "Still untested is the transportation system for the delegates, alternates, guests and press entourage."

Concern over transportation issues soon fizzled out, as attention turned to the candidates, in what ended up being the last time a presidential nominee was decided at a convention.

Gerald Ford became president when Richard Nixon resigned in the face of the Watergate scandal, but he still faced a strong challenge for the nomination from Ronald Reagan. Ford ended up winning with Kansas Sen. Bob Dole as his running mate by just more than 100 votes, but failed to overcome Democrat Jimmy Carter in the ‘76 presidential election. 

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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