Las Vegas on Thursday made the first cut among eight cities vying to host the Republican National Convention in 2016.
Now the real competition begins with the gaming capital seen as the front-runner to host the event that’s expected to draw 50,000 people — and the nation’s attention — as the GOP nominates its presidential pick.
“I don’t think there’s a better city in the world to host a convention,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, chairman of the Nevada Host Committee, which is organizing the Las Vegas bid. “This is what we do. I wish the other cities well, but we have the infrastructure to do this like no other city. … We’re all in and we’re excited.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus used Twitter to announce the list of eight cities in contention, including Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas, Kansas City, Mo., Phoenix, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus, Ohio.
Next week, representatives from each city will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with the RNC’s Site Selection Committee. In mid-March, the panel will announce cities for site visits in the spring. In late spring, the finalist city or cities will be picked. And in late summer or early fall, the full RNC will vote on the convention city.
“One factor on its own isn’t going to outweigh any other factor” in choosing the winning city, said Ryan Mahoney, an RNC spokesman. “It’s the entire bid package that ultimately will be considered.”
Here’s a look at the contenders:
Las Vegas has been touting its experience hosting big conventions of up to 150,000 people as well as easy access to the airport, 150,000 hotel rooms and money from heavy GOP donors such as casino moguls Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn. (The convention will cost $55 million to $70 million but will bring in an estimated $400 million in revenues.)
Convention delegates won’t have to ride buses for hours from outlying hotels to get to the Las Vegas Convention Center, the likely event site, and shopping, entertainment and four-star restaurants are a walk or a short drive away.
The convention over three or four days would wrap by 8 p.m. each night, giving delegates plenty of time to go out and socialize, unlike cities in other time zones where events would run later and transportation would take more time.
Nevada also is a battleground state and having a GOP convention here could ignite more Republican enthusiasm, giving the GOP presidential nominee an edge at the ballot box.
Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said one issue that might trouble RNC leaders is Las Vegas’ many distractions that could land convention-goers in trouble, from free drinks and ubiquitous gambling to nightclub parties and prostitution, although it’s illegal in the city and Clark County.
“We can match anybody when it comes to amenities, but Las Vegas has more opportunities for trouble,” Herzik said.
The biggest downside to Las Vegas, however, might be the weather if the convention is held in late June or July as expected. The average high in June is 100 degrees and in July 106.
Phoenix is just as hot or hotter than Las Vegas with an average high of 104 in June and 106 in July.
Arizona, which is right leaning, also has been getting negative headlines thanks to legislation promoted by conservative Republicans. Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday vetoed a religious freedom bill that would have allowed businesses to deny service to gay people. The state had been facing threatened boycotts because of the bill.
The border state also has a reputation for harsh treatment of illegal immigrants at a time the GOP is trying to attract more Hispanics, which could hurt its chances at winning the convention. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out parts of the law, which allowed police to stop anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.
“Phoenix would be a long shot,” Herzik said. “It’s brutal in the summer. And it’s drawing negative headlines just about every other month. If they went to Phoenix, they’re answering a lot of questions about a lot of very divisive issues.”
Still, Phoenix was a finalist in 2012, although the GOP convention went to Tampa, Fla.
The mile-high city hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2008 so it has the facilities and proven ability to handle such a big event. Transportation is an issue, however, with the airport 23 miles from downtown.
Denver has held several other major events, too, including the G-8 and World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II.
Democrats chose Denver as a way to make inroads in the Western states of Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. Republicans could make the same argument, holding a convention there to regain lost GOP leverage.
“Denver has demonstrated the ability to put on a world-class event,” Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, told ABC News. “What a great place for Republicans to start a conversation about the next chapter of the party.”
That said, Republicans might be reluctant to follow in the Democrats’ footsteps in Denver, said one GOP adviser.
Another troublesome matter: Colorado’s new law legalizing recreational marijuana use could give the GOP pause.
The city hosted the 1984 Republican National Convention where President Ronald Reagan was nominated for a second term. Dallas is fairly far from the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, about 20 miles.
Texas is comfortably Republican for now, so there’s little political reason for the GOP to meet there. But the state does have a large Hispanic population, which the Republican Party is courting.
Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is working to bring the convention to Dallas, said the city has plenty of hotel rooms within two miles of the American Airlines Center and rooms for entertainment as well.
“We’re starting late but will give it our very best,” she told the Dallas News.
The Midwestern city hosted the 1976 Republican National Convention where then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan failed to beat President Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination.
Neither Kansas nor Missouri, both GOP-leaning, is expected to be competitive in 2016 so there’s no driving political reason to hold the convention in Kansas City.
Also, with the airport 15 miles from the city, transportation to the Sprint Center and hotels will be an issue.
Temperatures in June and July can hit the 80s and 90s, while humidity ranges from 41 percent to 99 percent.
Kansas City has worked hard for years to win the GOP convention, but has repeatedly come up short.
Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus are in the battleground state of Ohio, which Republicans need to win in 2016 to reclaim the White House. The last time a Republican won Ohio was 2004 when George W. Bush won re-election.
Ohio cities have hosted political conventions in the past, but many years ago: The Democrats in 1856 and 1880 in Cincinnati and the Republicans in Cincinnati in 1876 and in Cleveland in 1924 and 1936.
“The road to the White House runs through Ohio. It is the ultimate battleground state,” Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges said in a statement Thursday. “Not only does Ohio have three world-class cities capable of hosting a national convention, but bringing one here would put our candidate and party’s message directly in front of voters.”
Politically, holding the GOP convention in Ohio makes sense, but delegates would have to endure long travel times going between the convention sites, airports and far-flung hotels.
Chris Schrimpf, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said the state has set aside $10 million for any city that gets the convention and the cities themselves already are raising funds to make a big push to win the event.
Schrimpf acknowledged the Ohio cities would require a good transportation plan to shuttle delegates around, but he expressed confidence there won’t be too many inconveniences. He said airports could add flights, too.
He made the political case for each city. He said Cleveland has the largest block of Ohio voters; Columbus is a swing area and up for grabs; and Cincinnati is “the heart of GOP territory in Ohio.”
“A Republican has never won the White House without winning Ohio,” Schrimpf said before taking a jab at Las Vegas.
“It’s a dry heat for you guys, but to people coming from elsewhere it’s just hot.”
Stephens Washington Bureau writer Peter Urban contributed to this report. Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.