Las Vegas to GOP: Place your bets on us for 2016

The city has never hosted a major party nominating convention, but hopes 2016 is the first.

Catalina Camia, USA TODAY

LAS VEGAS — Tech and gadget junkies flock here annually by the thousands. So do the people who make auto parts, broadcast the news, and manufacture apparel and furniture.

But for all the conventions and trade shows Las Vegas has hosted, none has ever been devoted to nominating a major party presidential candidate.

Nevada leaders are out to change that with a major effort to land the 2016 Republican National Convention in Las Vegas.

“This is what we do. We’re exceedingly good at it,” says Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, a Republican and chairman of the Nevada Host Committee. “This is the perfect venue to host a national convention.”

Kansas City begs to differ. Leaders there think their home is the ideal locale for the GOP event. So do people in Salt Lake City and Phoenix, which were finalists last year, and Cleveland, Columbus and Denver. They’ve all expressed some level of interest about 2016. In all, 26 cities are expected to submit bids to the Republican National Committee (RNC) by Feb. 26.

The reward could be a lucrative. Tampa saw an economic impact of about $404 million, according to a study conducted after it hosted the 2012 Republican convention. Charlotte, which hosted President Obama and Democrats last year, saw a total impact of about $164 million.

So for the next few weeks, cities are pulling together the information needed to satisfy the RNC’s 47-point checklist — detailing everything from available convention venues and hotel rooms to transportation and the available labor and volunteer force. The RNC also wants to know if cities can raise the private funds needed — estimated to be at least $50 million — to stage an event for about 50,000 delegates, journalists and other visitors.

The website for Las Vegas 2016 boasts such factoids as number of hotel rooms (150,000) and exhibit space (10.7 million square feet), standard fare for any convention planner.

There are also other details — the Pacific time zone, more than 50 golf courses, 14 world-class restaurants with at least one Michelin star — that underscore how the committee is thinking beyond what goes on inside the convention hall to appeal to people who want ways to unwind from all the politicking.

The point, Krolicki admits, isn’t just to get Republican convention-goers to Las Vegas for a few days in 2016 but “we want them to come back.”

But will Las Vegas’ reputation as Sin City be a turn-off to the social conservatives who have played a key role in the nominating process? Krolicki notes Las Vegas is much more than a gambling mecca.

“The gaming is just standard fare whether you’re in New Orleans or Florida,” he says. “It’s been where we’ve gone before and it’s part of the fabric and business community of most places that are looking to host the convention. Gaming is exceedingly mitigated at this point.”

Republicans may also fret about having a convention in the only state in the country where prostitution is legal. It’s not permitted in Las Vegas, however.

Nevada can boast some political factors that could be appealing, such as demographics. Nearly 30% of the state’s population is Hispanic. Republicans such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida governor Jeb Bush — both possible presidential candidates — have demonstrated they can win Latino votes. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is Hispanic, is also the state’s most prominent Republican.

Krolicki wouldn’t say which cities he views as competitors, but there’s evidence Kansas City is also ready to pull out all the stops for the Republican convention.

Mayor Sly James hosted a reception in August at the RNC’s meeting in Boston to make a personal pitch for his city. Civic leaders are already lining up donors, as is the Las Vegas group.

Kansas City’s location in America’s heartland is part of its pitch. So is its experience hosting events such as Major League Baseball’s 2012 All-Star Game and $6 billion in downtown redevelopment, says Troy Stremming, chairman of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association.

There is also GOP history. Kansas City played host to the 1976 Republican National Convention, which featured the battle between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan for the GOP nomination.

Stremming says the city can offer the Sprint Arena, which has played host to rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball championships, and plenty of hotel rooms, transportation and entertainment. He acknowledges there are also challenges.

“One thing you don’t see in Kansas City are mountains and oceans, but you see a lot of smiling, welcoming faces,” he says. “Sometimes you can be overlooked in these types of things. If given the chance, our goal is to let everyone across the country know what a welcoming city and beautiful place we are.”

When the RNC holds its winter meeting in January, a site selection committee will be chosen to whittle the proposals and determine the timetable for making the decision.

The party made clear in its post-2012 election report that it would like to hold the convention in late June or sometime in July instead of later August, which has become traditional. The RNC is also mindful that the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held Aug. 5-21 in Brazil.

“In the past year, I’ve heard from many of our grass-roots supporters who believe we need to update our primary process and have an earlier convention to give the next Republican nominee the structure and resources that will help win the White House in 2016,” says RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. “We’re working with committee members to do just that and I’m excited to move forward with these important changes.”