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LeBron James' return to Cleveland throws uncertainty into Republicans' Ohio convention plans

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WASHINGTON - Celebrations aside, LeBron James' decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA could complicate the Republican Party's plan to nominate its presidential contender on Lake Erie's shores in 2016.

If James leads his team into post-season play then, the GOP could find its preferred June 28 start date for the convention impossible because of the site conflict. Convention planners typically take weeks to customize the space with lights, seats and the traditional balloon drop from the rafters — impossible tasks if the Cavaliers go into post-season play.

That leaves Republicans looking at their backup date of July 18, still earlier than parties typically nominate their presidential hopeful in recent years, but later than RNC chief Reince Priebus preferred.

"All options remain on the table as we're still very early on in the negotiation process," RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said. "We're excited about Cleveland, and LeBron's return is further evidence that it's a city on the rise."

Priebus insisted his party's convention be scheduled for early summer 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.

"The candidate can be broke, but they're not able to raise general election money until the convention is held," Priebus said earlier this week.

But James' return to the Cavaliers from the Miami Heat could complicate that timeline and perhaps Republican efforts to win the White House. Teams with James have made it to the league finals in five of the last eight seasons, and his move to Cleveland is unlikely to reverse that trend.

Cleveland on Tuesday won the unanimous backing of a RNC panel, all but guaranteeing the GOP's 2016 presidential pick will accept the party's nomination in perennially hard-fought Ohio. RNC lawyers are now in negotiations with Cleveland's organizing committee over the exact terms of the bid, including how many weeks of early and exclusive access Republicans can expect in the Cavaliers' arena.

If the RNC insists on its preferred date and weeks of early access to hang balloons and bunting, the Cavaliers could be forced to look at other venues for post-season play. Ohio State University's basketball arena in Columbus is one such option.

The full 168-member RNC is expected to finalize the deal next month.

Ohio's allure as a political prize proved tempting. The last candidate to win the White House without Ohio was John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, in 1960.

During the 2012 presidential race, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney made Ohio a central piece of their strategies. Combined, they spent $150 million on television ads and were frequent visitors to the state, which narrowly broke in Obama's favour.

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Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott

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