The Republican National Committee is expected Tuesday to choose between two cities — Dallas and Cleveland — to host the party’s 2016 presidential nominating convention. The city selected will win a week in the national spotlight and host tens of thousands of visitors and the millions of dollars in economic activity those visitors bring.
Both Dallas and Cleveland have spent months wooing the nine members of the RNC’s site selection committee. The cities have sent delegations to RNC meetings, hosted happy hours and rolled out the red carpet for the site selection team.
But after months of intense behind-the-scenes lobbying, the committee is weighing more practical matters, including whether the two finalists have a sufficient number of hotel rooms to host the estimated 40,000 to 50,000 delegates, journalists, party officials and guests who will attend the convention; whether the cities can raise the $50 million to $60 million it will cost to rent venues and provide security; and the political story conveyed by the location.
The ability to raise sufficient funds to cover security and venue costs is the single most important factor to national Republicans, several top party officials said. In 2012, Tampa, that year’s host city, struggled to raise the necessary money. It’s even more difficult this year, after Congress voted to end a federal subsidy for national convention activities. The RNC was determined to avoid a similar headache, one committee member said.
“Number one: It is a business decision. Number two: It is a business decision. Number three: It is a business decision,” said Sean Spicer, the RNC’s communications director.
Republicans are requiring the host committees of both cities to put money into escrow. Dallas claims more than $50 million in commitments — money that includes state funds; Cleveland has more than $30 million on hand. National Republicans want the two cities to aim for $68 million — the high end of cost estimates.
Dallas and Cleveland are most interested, backers say, by what a convention would do for their cities. Cleveland is trying to overcome its reputation as the “Mistake by the Lake,” hoping to show off the billions of dollars in new development downtown. The city recently opened a 750,000-square-foot convention center — located half a mile from Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention’s floor activities would take place.
Dallas also has undergone a renaissance and is eager to show off its new face, including $20 billion in new investments and the newly opened George W. Bush Presidential Library. It has more than 75,000 hotel rooms available in the metropolitan area, 85 percent of which are within 1.1 miles of the American Airlines Center, where convention floor activities would take place.
“From a branding and image perspective, we think it would be a great opportunity for us,” said Phillip Jones, president and chief executive of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It would reintroduce the new Dallas to the world with the extensive media coverage that either host city would receive.”
To win over committee members, both cities have introduced them to local celebrities. Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner and rookie quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, met Republicans at the Cleveland Museum of Art. In Dallas, it was Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and billionaires Ray Hunt and Harlan Crow, both major Republican donors. Two Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders showed up at the RNC’s spring meeting in Memphis.
“They had, far and away, the most popular reception of any of the host cities in Memphis, and there isn’t any question why,” said Henry Barbour, an RNC national committeeman from Mississippi.
The convention could mean so much money for the winning city that even Democrats are wooing Republicans: Both Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (D) and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson (D) have personally pitched national Republicans.
Both cities also are trying to convince Republicans that their hosting of the convention would send a powerful message. Dallas has a large Hispanic population, a voting bloc in which Republicans are desperate to make inroads. Cleveland backers make the case that no Republican can win the White House without carrying Ohio.
Republican strategists point out that the two cities would put very different politicians in the limelight. Hosting a convention in Cleveland could mean a prominent speaking slot for Sen. Rob Portman (R), who has been in regular contact with the RNC pitching his home state in recent months. A convention in Dallas would likely give Sen. Ted Cruz (R) a shot at the microphone — assuming the freshman senator isn’t the party’s presidential nominee. Those two senators — one a relative moderate with a calm demeanor, the other a firebrand with a tea party agenda — would send very different signals.
The deciding factor may come down to when either city might be able to host the convention. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has been adamant that the party reverse the recent trend of hosting conventions later in the year, in order to give the GOP time to coalesce around a nominee and time to raise the money necessary — likely more than $1 billion — to run an effective campaign in November. Priebus has said he prefers to hold a convention as early as June.
That could be a problem for Dallas: The city has both NBA and NHL franchises that could be competing for league championships in June. Convention organizers need up to six weeks to prepare an arena and build sets.
Cleveland has offered to kick off its convention on June 27. It’s unlikely the city’s NBA team, the Cavaliers, which missed the playoffs entirely in 2014, would be in the finals. Then again, reports surfaced this week that basketball superstar LeBron James is considering a return to his first NBA team, which could make the Cavs a late contender.