WASHINGTON — So, the Republican official asked across the table, if Las Vegas gets the party’s 2016 national convention, how long would it take to get from the convention center to the farthest hotel where someone could be staying.
The question posed Friday to Las Vegans presenting the city’s bid to the Republican National Committee showed how much the party is prizing convenient transportation as it weighs sites for its next big showcase.
The bidders had an answer ready. Twenty minutes, from Mandalay Bay, they said.
There were no surprises, participants said, in what a GOP site selection panel wanted from Nevadans during a presentation that ran longer than the allotted hour at Republican headquarters.
Evaluators asked about the workings of the Las Vegas Convention Center and its availability to be prepared for either the weeks of June 27 or July 18 of 2016. They asked a lot of questions about host city fundraising for the event, participants said. Someone even asked how Sen. Harry Reid, the state’s chief Democrat, feels about Las Vegas hosting the Republicans. (He is supportive.)
Officials from Dallas and Cincinnati came under similar scrutiny as the site selection panel completed a second day of fielding offers to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. It’s a major undertaking that also comes with what party officials say would be a $400 million boost to the local economy and a showcase week of world publicity that could be worth a lot if things run smoothly.
Denver, Phoenix, Kansas City, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, made presentations on March 3.
After hearing pitches in the morning, the 13-member site panel continued meeting Friday to start winnowing the competitors, according to committee Chairwoman Enid Mickelson of Utah. First cuts are expected in a few weeks.
“There is no front-runner at this point,” Mickelson said. “We are not even close to making a decision on where we are going to make site visits.”
Still, Las Vegas and Dallas are considered favorites, based on their experience putting on big shows, the availability of hotel rooms and the deep pockets of local Republicans.
Dallas leaders on Friday said they already have raised $40 million and are on track to raise all $60 million they pledged a year ahead of time.
Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, chairman of the Nevada Host Committee, didn’t blink.
“We would respectfully submit that Las Vegas’ ability to generate revenue and raise funds for this activity is profound,” he said. “I would put our ability to raise money against any of our wonderful competitors.”
The Las Vegas bid team, headed by Krolicki and former Gov. Bob List, played offense and defense at the same time. They emphasized the advantages in experience and logistics that they argued make Las Vegas a no-brainer to host any major convention.
At the same time, they dedicated a portion of their presentation to discussing the “Sin City” image that Las Vegas plays to its advantage at times but could be an Achilles heel in luring a political gathering that will include social conservatives.
“One person called it the elephant in the room,” List said. “We took it head-on.” The former governor delivered that part of the pitch by pointing out the city’s diversity and community features apart from the gaming sector.
“We are not just all blackjack dealers and pawnshop operators,” List said. “This is a community with 6,000 members of the chamber of commerce, 20,000 Boy Scouts, massive soccer leagues. We are an all-around city with a fast-growing population of Catholics and Jews and Hispanics. It’s a big metropolitan area.”
Still, when Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings was asked what distinguishes his city from Las Vegas, he said, “Our image of Dallas,” with neighborhoods, transportation and funding.
One possible problem for Dallas, though, is that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has said he would not give up American Airlines Center, the proposed convention site, if his team is in the NBA playoffs in conflict with Republican plans.
Krolicki expressed confidence Las Vegas would meet financial terms beyond the $55 million to $70 million it was required to pledge in its initial bid.
Republican Chairman Reince Priebus said bidders might have to come up with an additional $18 million after Congress passed legislation this month cutting off public funding for the conventions of both parties.
“We know the bogey has gotten bigger,” Krolicki said, adding “we have already identified probably half the money we would need to raise.”
Krolicki said the sources include national sponsors who have bought into past conventions, potential in-kind donors of goods and services, and wealthy locals such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
“It’s all about the ask,” List said. “There are only two ways to twist arms — clockwise and counter-clockwise.”
Republican leaders have said financial and transportation issues will factor in a large way in the 2016 site selection after 2012 host city Tampa, Fla., struggled to meet its financial goals and after some delegations found themselves an hour’s bus ride from the convention hall.
List said Las Vegas can promise sturdy finances and easy transportation but also a fresh identity for the party.
“Part of our job will be to project a winning image to America going into the election,” he said of the host city. “We believe Las Vegas brings a fresh face and a new look and an excitement that will appeal to new demographics.”
More than a half-dozen people had speaking roles in the presentation.
Krolicki opened the presentation with a video invitation from Gov. Brian Sandoval and a 3 to 4 minute “sizzle reel” of Las Vegas sights and sounds, according to a person in the room who asked not to be identified to talk about the closed-door session.
Rossi Ralenkotter, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, talked about Las Vegas as a destination city, and Vice President Chris Meyer briefed the committee on the back-of-the-house workings of the convention center.
Jack St. Martin, a political consultant and executive director of Las Vegas 2016, talked about opportunities for training and grass-roots activities tied to the convention.
The Strip was represented by Michael Dominguez, senior vice president of sales for MGM Resorts International, and Tom Jenkin, global president of destination markets for Caesars Entertainment.