Cities give Republicans the hard sell on 2016 convention


The scene on the Las Vegas strip that could greet the GOP’s next presidential nominee. (Photo/Las Vegas News Bureau, Darrin Bush)

Kansas City wooed voters with popcorn. Denver used Coors Light. Phoenix passed out gift bags. Las Vegas, in the spirit of excess for which the city is known, set up two open bars, provided couches on which to relax and even sponsored free wireless Internet to voters.

Had Oscar Goodman still been mayor, showgirls might have been included.

After months of behind-the-scenes jockeying, a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Washington this week gave cities vying for the right to hold the 2016 GOP convention the first public opportunity to openly make their case to RNC members.

More than two years before Republicans meet to formally nominate a presidential candidate, the process of picking a city to host the convention is just beginning. Republicans on Friday tapped eight members, two from each of four regions, to serve on a site selection committee. Those members will visit each of the cities that submit a formal bid, consider their relative merits and eventually settle on a winner.

The committee will be led by Enid Mickelsen, an RNC member from Utah and a former member of Congress.

At stake in their decision: The national spotlight for a week during the summer of 2016, an influx of federal money for security and arrangements, and tens of millions of dollars in economic activity from the estimated 40,000 or so convention delegates, guests, visitors and media.

Republicans have sent a request for proposal to about two dozen cities, officials said. To handle the expected tens of thousands of visitors, the committee wants to make sure a host city has an adequate venue for convention activities, a sufficient number of hotel rooms for visitors within a reasonable distance of the convention hall, and transportation options to get them to and fro.

Five cities are making their interest known early. Kansas City, Kan., Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, all set up tables or other outposts to hand out information and goodies, ranging from snacks to alcohol to leather-bound folios. Convention and tourism bureaus from several other cities, including Charlotte and Salt Lake City, have expressed interest in hosting the convention as well.

Several cities interested in the 2016 convention have served as hosts in previous years. Charlotte and Denver hosted Democratic conventions in 2012 and 2008, respectively. Phoenix and Salt Lake City were finalists for the Republican convention in 2012, which eventually went to Tampa.

But the most attention has focused on a newcomer, Las Vegas. The city, which backers point out hosts more conventions than any other in the country, has tens of thousands of hotel rooms within walking distance of any of several possible convention venues. And though Las Vegas has a reputation as Sin City, home to gambling and strip clubs, backers make the case that the vast majority of states in the United States now allow gambling, taking away any stigma that might have scared off voters before.

“What better place to have the national convention than Las Vegas?” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval asked in an interview last month. “I was in Tampa. Great city, but we were 20 miles away. We had to bus in. I was in New York, miles away from the venue. I was in San Diego, even more miles away from the venue back in 1996. I think Las Vegas is the absolute perfect place to have it from a logistics point of view, and I think it would be great for the Republican Party.”

Las Vegas appears to be the early front-runner. In conversations with current and former members of the RNC, none voiced support for any city outside their home state, except for Sin City.

“Other than Vegas, you can’t find a state that has vocal supporters from other states,” said Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. “There’s a pretty broad consensus that Las Vegas is the most logical choice.”

Hosting a convention is a bipartisan affair. On Wednesday, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, a Democrat, worked the crowd at the RNC, going so far as to guarantee the Republican nominee would win Ohio if they held their convention in his home city. Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R), who is heading the Las Vegas bid, spent several days camped out among RNC members.

The site selection committee will make its choice, in large part, based on which city is best able to raise the tens of millions of dollars required to put on the four or five days of events. Money has been an issue for several recent host cities; the host committee in Charlotte, which hosted the Democratic convention in 2012, wound up owing vendors several million dollars months after President Obama won reelection.

“I’m looking for good hotels, access to the convention site, a good convention site and sufficient financial resources,” said John Ryder, one of Tennessee’s representatives to the RNC. “Anybody can put together a booth, a hospitality suite and a gift bag. Show me the money.”

But there are other factors to consider as well: One Democratic elected official rooting for his hometown noted that, with Republicans planning to hold their convention in June or July of 2016, sports teams could get in the way. Playoffs for both the NBA and the NHL will be happening by then, and no owner will willingly give up his arena, and the revenue a playoff game generates, for the six weeks it takes to build the stage on which an eventual nominee will accept his or her party’s nomination. The official said he thought that meant his hometown, which has professional sports teams, would be out of the running.

Cities haven’t begun campaigning in earnest to host the Democratic National Convention because Democrats typically begin asking for proposals later than Republicans. Once the Democratic National Committee puts out its request for proposal, which specifies metrics like the number of hotel rooms and available transportation options, many of the same cities will begin maneuvering to apply.

The two parties haven’t held conventions in the same city since 1972, when both Democrats and Republicans nominated their presidential candidates in Miami Beach.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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