Does it matter where the GOP decides to hold its 2016 convention?
The Republican Party, ready to be done with the Obama presidency as soon as possible, moved aggressively last week to strengthen its chances of retaking the White House in 2016 by compressing its nominating calendar and moving its national convention to the early summer.
While those changes drew the lion’s share of media attention, there was another important fight happening at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in Washington that interested the assembled delegates even more: the battle to be the host city for the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Hosting a convention not only is a massive boon for a city’s economy but also conveys a symbolic political import to the state chosen.
President Obama’s decision to go with Charlotte as the host city in 2012 was carefully chosen to send a message that he would compete aggressively in North Carolina, where in 2008 he had been the first Democratic presidential nominee to win that state since Jimmy Carter. Ditto Republicans putting their convention in Tampa, as they desperately needed to win back Florida from Obama.
Worth noting: The whole if-we-put-the-convention-there-we-will-win-the-state thing has very little evidence of actually, you know, working. Obama lost North Carolina in 2012. Ditto Mitt Romney in Florida. The last time Republicans won the state where they held their convention was way back in 1992, when Houston played host to the nominating fete: George H.W. Bush won Texas but lost the presidency to Bill Clinton.
Despite that bit of history, the scramble to win over the nine-person site selection committee — led by former Utah congresswoman Enid Greene Mickelsen — is already in full effect.
“I think you probably heard from our members at the meeting that they all want to see easy access from hotels to the site, a quick and easy transportation system to and from hotels to venues and the convention site and a great delegate experience,” said Stephen Duprey, a Republican committeeman from New Hampshire and a member of the site selection panel.
Below we handicap the chances of the five cities actively vying for the 2016 convention. The cities are ranked from most to least likely to win the convention — as of today:
● Las Vegas: This remarkably organized effort is led by Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and aided by top Nevada GOP political operatives Mike Slanker, Jack St. Martin and Ryan Erwin. That organization paid off during the winter meeting as the Vegas contingent dominated.
Pro: 150,000 hotel rooms. Entertainment. Great food.
Con: The average high temperature in July in Las Vegas is 106 degrees. Also, it’s Vegas, and as much of the city’s reputation has changed over the past decade, has it changed that much?
● ● Columbus, Ohio: In the 2012 election, Ohio was the second-most closely contested state — with Obama nudging Romney by less than 2 percent of the vote. Eight years earlier, George W. Bush’s victory in Ohio sealed reelection for him.
Pro: See above. This is the capital city at the center of the swingiest state in the country.
Con: It’s not the easiest city to get in and out of. Plus, does Columbus generate the sort of rabid excitement the GOP needs to show from its delegates at the ’16 convention?
● Kansas City: Kansas City has been agitating for the convention for the better part of the past year (and has regularly been a bridesmaid in this process). Last week the Kansas City contingent brought out Bob Dole, who was nominated as vice president the last time the party held a convention in K.C. in 1976, to endorse the idea.
Pro: There’s no better way to send a message that middle America matters than to put a convention in, well, the middle of America.
Con: Having hotel space split up between two cities — Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo. — is less than ideal, and neither state will be a swing state in 2016. Also, for a party that needs to win over Hispanic voters, having the convention in states with low Latino populations might not be the best choice.
● Phoenix: The argument for Phoenix is much the same as it is for Las Vegas. Republicans’ grip on the West has slipped considerably in recent years, due in large part to their struggles to win Hispanic votes.
Pro: Arizona’s capital city was one of the three finalists in 2012, along with Salt Lake City.
Con: In an election where you must find a way to compete among Hispanics, do you really want to put your national convention in a state that has become synonymous with the nation’s most stringent immigration laws?
● Denver: Denver has everything that Las Vegas and Phoenix do — it’s in swing state with a large Hispanic population — without the ridiculous heat. (The average high in Denver in July is 88 degrees.)
Pro: Colorado’s capital has done this before — and recently — hosting the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Con: Remember in 2008 when Obama filled Invesco Field (now Sports Authority Field) for his acceptance speech? Republicans will be forever be compared with that feat if they choose to put their convention in the same city. And that’s not a comparison they should want.