|Date(s) August 12–15, 1996|
Keynote speaker Susan Molinari
Vice Presidential nominee Jack Kemp of New York
|City San Diego, California|
Presidential nominee Bob Dole of Kansas
|Venue San Diego Convention Center|
The 1996 National Convention of the Republican Party of the United States convened at the San Diego Convention Center (SDCC) in San Diego, California, from August 12 to August 15, 1996. The convention nominated Bob Dole, former Senator from Kansas, for President and Jack Kemp, former Representative from suburban Buffalo, New York, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, for Vice President.
After a bitter primary, Dole had secured the Republican nomination—but at high cost, financially and politically. The Party had lost momentum after President Bill Clinton successfully co-opted the historically Republican issues of crime and welfare reform and portrayed House Speaker Newt Gingrich as an extremist.
Within his own party, Dole was under pressure from both sides of the political spectrum. Social liberals such as California Governor Pete Wilson and Massachusetts Governor William Weld loudly argued to remove the Human Life Amendment plank from the convention platform. On the right, primary opponents Patrick Buchanan and Alan Keyes withheld endorsements—Buchanan staged a rally for his supporters in nearby Escondido on the eve of the San Diego convention. Indeed, past comments by Kemp labeling Dole as a tax-raiser surfaced. The long, bitter primary had also left the Dole campaign short of funds as a result of federal election spending limits in the months leading up to the convention.
The Dole campaign sought to use the convention to unite the party, to appeal to political moderates, and to highlight Dole's honorable service in World War II and in the U.S. Senate. Nearly all floor speeches were delivered by moderate or liberal Republicans, including the keynote address by New York Congresswoman Susan Molinari, and Dole was nominated by fellow veteran and Arizona Senator John McCain. Gingrich, who less than two years ago had been a star of the party, was denied a prime time slot altogether, as was Buchanan, who had finished in second place for the nomination, with over 200 delegates. However, supporters in the socially conservative grassroots organizations such as the Christian Coalition directed the convention to adopt a conservative platform with little controversy, and Buchanan released his delegates at the last minute.
The convention ran smoothly overall, and the Dole-Kemp team seemed to benefit in the short term. Opinion polls taken shortly after the conclusion of the convention showed the Republicans with a significant "bump" of increased support. However, this bump was extremely temporary, and they continued to trail the incumbent Clinton-Gore team; they went on to lose the election by almost nine points.
Other notable speakers
On the closing night of the convention, Stephen Fong, then-president of the San Francisco chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, spoke at the dais as part of a series of speeches from "mainstreet Americans," but was not publicly identified as gay. Fong was the first openly gay speaker at a Republican National Convention.
Senator John McCain placed Bob Dole's name in nomination
Vice Presidential tally
New York Governor George Pataki placed Jack Kemp's name into nomination, after which the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was nominated by voice vote.
The 1996 RNC was the first presidential nominating convention to be held in San Diego, and the only Republican National Convention held in Southern California. (The 1972 RNC was scheduled for the San Diego Sports Arena but relocated to Miami Beach, Florida, due to scandal.) Indeed, San Diego's bid had been considered unlikely to win. The SDCC was far smaller than its predecessor venues, the Astrodome in Houston and the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, and its normal seating layout left several sections and skyboxes with obstructed views. Ardent lobbying by Mayor Susan Golding, who some named as a potential candidate for U.S. Senate in 1998, and by Governor Wilson, himself to seek the 1996 presidential nomination, helped secure San Diego's selection in 1994. The San Diego Host Committee, "Sail to Victory '96," was organized on September 8, 1995.
It would also be the first national party convention since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which sparked heightened concerns over terrorism. The possibility that the explosion of TWA Flight 800 weeks before was a terrorist incident also weighed on convention planners. The Convention Center was located on the waterfront, near a harbor frequented by thousands of small boats—upon one of which Dole and Kemp made their ceremonial arrival. The police, Coast Guard, and other security presence was massive.
Convention planners situated the designated protest area several blocks away from the convention center, sparking criticism and legal action. It was later moved to a parking lot closer to the building which had originally been designated as a transportation center for the handicapped.
The convention was successful for San Diego, bringing positive publicity to the city and its revitalized waterfront and Gaslamp Quarter. The convention committee, however, overran its budget by some $20 million, largely because of the extra costs of security.