Care for some real Kansas City air-roasted coffee? A souvenir Denver Broncos insulated bag? How about a fleece vest from Las Vegas?
If you’re a member of the Republican National Committee, this stuff’s for you this week, as cities vie to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Behind this veneer of good cheer at this week’s RNC winter meeting is some very serious lobbying by Kansas City, Mo., Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver and Columbus, Ohio.
Kansas City on Wednesday hosted a reception for 200 at downtown Washington’s Del Campo restaurant, featuring jazz artist Angela Hagenbach singing “Kansas City.”
Former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas talked up the city where he was nominated for vice president in 1976. On Thursday, Jon Stephens, president and CEO of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association, manned a table filled with free coffee and popcorn.
The decision on the site of the convention, likely to be held between June 27 and July 18, 2016, will come quickly. The dates are far earlier than the late August/early September conventions of recent election years, as RNC officials are eager to give their nominee the entire summer to get better known and to raise money.
The party on Friday named a nine-person committee, two from each region of the country plus former Rep. Enid Greene Mickelsen of Utah as the chairman. Interested cities have to submit a detailed proposal by the end of February.
A city must show it has at least $10 million committed to the project and detail transportation, hotel space and other logistics.
The RNC committee will then host a “fly-in day,” when cities present their case in Washington. The group will then make site visits and probably will make a recommendation to the RNC in time for its late summer meeting.
“There really is no front-runner,” Mickelsen said Friday. RNC members echoed that thought.
Their most common theme: Sites like Tampa, Fla., and St. Paul, Minn., the last two hosts, are likely out.
“There were a lot of complaints that people had an hour bus ride to get to the hall,” said Saul Anuzis, a veteran Michigan Republican activist, though the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., was largely praised by that party’s officials.
Sites often fall into one of two categories: They’re favorites of party leaders or symbolize something the party wants emphasized.
That’s why Detroit hosted the 1980 convention at a time Republicans were eagerly wooing disaffected blue-collar Democrats. Or, in 2004, the party met in New York City, as a reminder of its tough-on-terrorist policies three years after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Few insiders think the site matters much in the general election later that year. “At the end of the day the average person couldn’t tell you where the convention was held,” said Steve Scheffler, an Iowa national committeeman who will serve on the site committee.
Convenience is more important. “You want to be able to get around easily, and you want the city to be able to raise the money,” said Matt Moore, South Carolina’s Republican chairman.
That was Las Vegas’ pitch. As Anuzis noted, “A speaker could stay in one hotel and address six different delegations,” and people could walk to the convention.
This week was the preliminary round, a time to woo people’s hearts and stomachs.
Denver boosters gave RNC members an insulated Broncos’ tote bag. Inside was a can of Colorado Native beer, a bottle of Coors beer, a Coyote Gold Frozen Margarita and Colorado Rockies T-shirts and hats.
Columbus hosted a reception featuring Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, a local favorite. Especially the salty caramel. Kansas City offered gift bags topped with a red heart that said, “Kansas City 2016,” and included coffee and chocolate.
Las Vegas hosted two Wi-Fi lounges featuring cushy chairs, sodas, juices and fruit and a welcome note from Gov. Brian Sandoval promising, “We’ve thought of everything.”
The big question for Republicans is whether the party that promotes family values wants to be live from Vegas for a week. Especially when they can pick clean-cut Kansas City or Columbus.
“I come from a small town in Ohio, and I’ve chosen to raise my family and have a business in Las Vegas,” answered Ryan Erwin, a consultant promoting the city at the RNC meeting.
Erwin argued that you can’t beat the convenience and the knowhow – 150,000 hotel rooms, including 15,000 luxury suites, and 21,000 conventions with 5 million attendees last year.
Phoenix’s issue is its heat. No problem, said consultant Edward Cowling. “It can be in the 80s that time of year,” he said. At night. According to AccuWeather, daytime highs during convention time are 106 or 107.
Denver is selling experience. It hosted the 2008 Democratic convention, which got good reviews. “We feel pretty confident,” said Colorado Republican Chairman Ryan Call.
Kansas City gets a push from Dole. At the city’s reception, he told about 200 visitors that it was “important to note that the demographics of the Kansas City region very closely mirror those of the rest of the country. We are proud of our diversity and we embrace it.”
Stephens offers the more practical points, explaining, “You can get to Kansas City in three hours from every corner of America.”
Perhaps Kansas City’s biggest attraction is its Midwestern way. The whole city would be excited, meaning legions of polite, friendly people eager to help, Stephens said.
He was politely making that point repeatedly this week. “We’re just meeting and greeting,” he said, “following up with very one-on-one, personal relationships.”