Republicans Wooed With BBQ, Trucker Hats, Ice Cream As Search Begins For 2016 Convention City

Impress early and often is the plan as Republican National Committee prepares to announce site selection panel

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Karl Rove during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Today is the first full session of the RNC after the start was delayed due to Tropical Storm Isaac.

The mayor of Columbus promised Ohio. Las Vegas offered gifts. Kansas City supplied an American hero.

Three years before the next president will be inaugurated, Republican Party leaders gathered in Washington to start their search for the home of the next presidential convention. With the host role, comes a boost in a city’s national profile, and, in the eyes of organizers, millions of dollars in economic benefits.

More than two dozen cities have explored bids, according to Republican National Committee officials, but those seen as seriously considering hosting the convention are making themselves known in Washington this week. In addition to Columbus, Las Vegas, and Kansas City, three other cities are working hard to earn the nod: Denver, Phoenix, and New Orleans. The Republican National Committee will select members to the convention site selection committee Friday. It will be led by Utah National Committeewoman and former Congresswoman Enid Mickelsen.

But as the haggling got under way Wednesday, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman found himself in unfamiliar territory. Addressing Republican National Committee members, staffers, and consultants—over Ohio-brewed booze, ice cream and one of the city’s Jazz ensembles— Coleman promised the GOP a victory in the key swing-state if they held their convention in his city. “I have two guarantees,” he said. “If you have a Republican National Convention in the City of Columbus, I guarantee you it will be your best convention ever. Second, if you have the Republican National Convention in the City of Columbus, you will win the state of Ohio.”

Coleman was pressing the flesh with RNC members late into the night Wednesday. “Here’s how it works,” he said, borrowing Sin City’s famous phrase. “What happens in Columbus, ends up in the White House.”

Not to be outdone, Las Vegas proffered gifts and alcohol to the members of the RNC, sponsoring two lounges on either side of the convention hall where the body is meeting, complete with wifi and open bars. When guest arrived, the Las Vegas contingent presented them with a gift box complete with fitted fleece vest, a trucker hat, a T-shirt, and a leather folio, all embossed the convention aspirants’ official logo. Glossy collections of menus of the city’s top restaurants and spectacular images of the area’s vistas were inside. In a subtle critique of their competition, the Nevada team’s video closes on the slogan, “Las Vegas is ready. This is what we do.”

A team of staffers were still decorating the space Wednesday as the convention began, as the city’s official pitch video, heavily focused on its ability to handle such a large-scale event, played on loop. “They’re doing it right,” said one RNC member.

On the forefront of many members’ minds is logistics. Their delegates, alternates, and state officials generally stay together as a block. In Tampa, some commuted more than an hour each way to the convention site from hotels in far-off suburbs. Las Vegas says it can host the entire convention population within a radius of one mile, a bar no other city, save New York, can hope to meet.

Planners also worry about the financial costs of hosting the convention. The Democratic Party struggled to pay its convention bill in 2012, and the GOP’s own 2012 convention planning operation was rocked by early financial difficulties. Alex Fischer, the President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, the local business group, promised that the at least $50 million needed to host the convention will be ready from the get-go. Similar promises have already been made by other cities in contention.

And after two straight conventions disrupted by weather, Republicans say they are looking for cities less susceptible to disturbances.

Kansas City was first out of the gate for the convention bidding, hosting a party for RNC members last April at their meeting in Los Angeles, nine months before the committee selecting the next site was even formed. On Wednesday evening, at a swanky restaurant two blocks from the RNC meeting, the host committee, including mayors of both Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Ks., feted members and guests with their cities’ signature barbecue, and invited a Republican legend, former Sen. Bob Dole, to meet with the group. Members said they were particularly enthusiastic about seeing the 90-year-old former presidential nominee, who has been in poor health.

On Thursday morning, the Denver contingent arrived bearing schwag bags emblazoned with the logo of their Super Bowl-bound Broncos, complete with local beer and toffee. The host of the 2008 Democratic Convention, the city argues it has already demonstrated the capacity to host a convention. Meanwhile the Arizona team, with threw a Southwestern-themed party for RNC members last August in Boston, was passing out chips and candy.