Indiana Democrats will host their annual state convention outside Indianapolis for the first time as the party tries to energize voters in an area dominated by Republicans.
About 2,000 Democratic Party delegates will descend on Fort Wayne's Grand Wayne Convention Center this weekend as the party gathers to nominate its slate of candidates, adopt an official platform and select Indiana's delegates to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Democratic Mayor Tom Henry told The News-Sentinel that landing the convention was a coup that could bring about $500,000 in tourism revenue to the city. He hopes it also will rally discouraged Democrats who face an uphill battle almost every election cycle.
"I think it showed that Democrats in Fort Wayne and Allen County still have a considerable amount of strength," he said of the opportunity to host the convention. "The Democrats in our city and county are saying, 'Yes, we have a voice, at least in our own party.'"
Republicans have long had a firm grip on Allen County, where they hold majorities on city and town councils in Fort Wayne, New Haven and Woodburn.
Moving the convention away from Indianapolis gives Democrats an opportunity to gain footholds in less Democrat-friendly areas, said state party Chairman Dan Parker.
"It would let Democrats showcase their ideas in different parts of the state," Parker said. "We can compete and win the city of Fort Wayne, but we want to compete and win throughout northeast Indiana."
Henry said many Allen County voters don't view party affiliation as a factor when choosing which candidates to support, but he warned Democrats and independents not to stay home this year just because they think another round of GOP victories is inevitable.
"If you don't vote, you get what you get," he said.
Steven Shine, chairman of the Allen County Republican Party, rejected the notion that the convention could help Democrats loosen the GOP's grip on Allen County.
"No matter what kind of stunting the Democrats try to pull, Allen County will remain loyal to the Republican Party," he said.
Regardless of how voters respond, the convention in Fort Wayne is likely to drum up interest from other cities hoping to reap the economic benefits of hosting it, Parker said.
"I told the mayor, 'No pressure, but every other city that wants to host the convention is counting on you,'" he said.
Even Shine acknowledged a bit of political envy.
"Quite frankly, in my career I have not (ever) been jealous of Democrats, but this time I am," Shine said. "I want to be first in line to get the Republican state convention here in Allen County if and when that should occur."