Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Usually when the Republican National Committee gathers for its winter meeting, it’s all about policy meetings and strategy. This time, though, Nevada representatives hope something else steals everyone’s attention: the Las Vegas 2016 committee's sales pitch for why the city should be selected over the likes of Denver, Kansas City and various cities in Ohio to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.
“Las Vegas is truly the only city in the world that’s evolved to host people; we’re exceedingly good at it,” Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, said in an interview Wednesday. “This is what we do.” Krolicki is also chairman of the Las Vegas 2016 committee.
Finalists to host the 2016 convention are expected to be named in February, so for would-be host cities, the national committee winter meeting is the best opportunity to make a strong first impression.
To do so, it’s traditional for competing cities to roll out the red carpet for attendees with special receptions and cocktail hours. But this year, the Las Vegas 2016 team decided to leave the usual display of glitter, cocktails and showgirls at home. Instead of wooing by wining and dining, the home team is opting for an approach based on a concept you don’t often hear associated with Las Vegas: Subtlety.
Las Vegas 2016 has set up two sleek Wi-Fi hotspots, complete with coffee bars and several couches, in the hotel lobbies outside the RNC meeting rooms. Guests needing a respite from meetings are shown videos highlighting Las Vegas’ convention-ready qualities as they recharge their laptops and caffeine levels. They are offered gift bags with T-shirts, hats, fleece vests — the high temperature in wintry D.C. on Wednesday was a balmy 18 degrees — and mock 2016 delegation badges.
Not to mention this perk: Las Vegas 2016 is offering free Wi-Fi to conference attendees who want to avoid paying the $13 per night rate charged by the hotel. All one has to do is enter a complimentary access code, which routes computers to an initial home page touting all benefits of Las Vegas as RNC host for 2016. For example: more than 150,000 hotel rooms; large convention halls within walking distance of every guest room; a population that is 30 percent Hispanic; more than 320 days of sunshine a year; 21,000 conventions hosted per year, etc.
It’s all a strategic presentation that Las Vegas organizers think will set them apart — and leave RNC members with a sense of why the Las Vegas touch would set the 2016 convention apart.
“I don’t think there’s any question in any of the RNC members’ minds that Las Vegas is more than capable of hosting an event of this kind. So we thought a better presence was a sustained one,” Krolicki said. “We’re hosting people; this is part of what we do, with subtle gestures of hospitality.”
So far, Las Vegas team members said, the reception from attendees, tired from battling storm conditions to get into the city, has been positive.
Krolicki acknowledged that the approach was not without risk, though risk has always been part of the Las Vegas charm, and it's an element surrounding this bid.
In the past few years, Las Vegas’ reputation as a convention host and a site of Republican unity has taken some hits that could threaten the city’s image — particularly the local Republican Party’s image — in the national mindset.
In 2012, Las Vegas became the poster child for government excess when attendees of a Government Services Administration conference at the M Resort were found to have racked up an $823,000 bill for a four-day event. As details of the overspending emerged, the Nevada congressional delegation struggled for weeks to argue that Las Vegas party culture wasn’t to blame in the spending spree.
Later that year, Nevada Republicans watched — in either joy or horror, depending on the individual — as the schism between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul supporters played out on national television, capped off when several delegates decided to “vote their conscience” instead of their assigned roles, and stage a mutiny on the floor for Paul.
Those are images that the Las Vegas 2016 committee would rather the RNC forget, and are confident they will.
Krolicki pointed to the 2011 debate among the GOP presidential candidates broadcast on CNN as the best and most relevant example RNC members would consider as proof of how Las Vegas would host a national convention.
“It was a hugely successful event. … I think it put Nevada, and Las Vegas in particular, in a national political context that made people think: Wow, we really could do a good job here,” Krolicki said.
That event, however, was much smaller in scale than a convention. The Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., drew about 50,000 people to the city — and while Las Vegas may be able to accommodate that number in its hotel rooms, there is concern that the city may not have one convention space large enough to hold everyone for the main event.
There are also lingering concerns about the trade-offs to sponsoring a political convention that would bring a higher security barrier than most of the commercial meetings Las Vegas hosts. A convention host would have to commit to having a hole in its calendar –– space that could potentially be given to high-paying corporate customers.
But the RNC is discussing possibly moving its convention in a way that could play to Las Vegas’ favor, Krolicki said. Should the RNC move up the convention from August to July or even June, as RNC officials are currently contemplating, the convention would fall during the comparatively dry season in Las Vegas-based events — meaning the potential economic cost to resorts of doing this political business would be far less.
And furthermore, Krolicki pointed out, though Las Vegas has long kicked around the idea of the convention and in past years, ultimately kicked it to the curb, this year, Republican officials and tourism officials are on the same page.
Even if political differences remain among the factions of the Nevada delegation, everyone is united around the notion — to the point of clamoring for credit — that hosting a convention would be good for Las Vegas.
The list of Republicans in tow to make the pitch to the RNC is long and connected: Among others, Krolicki is being joined by Las Vegas 2016 Chairman Jack St. Martin, Republican National Committee Regional Director Chris Carr, Republican strategists Ryan Erwin and Mike Slanker, and former Gov. Bob List.
They are working with limited time. On Friday morning, RNC members will elect eight representatives who will join former Utah Rep. Enid Mickelsen, appointed this week by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus as chairwoman, to a site selection committee. Site scouting visits will likely follow in the spring.
Nevadans are not expected to be a part of the site selection committee, List said, and Krolicki insisted that the Nevada committee members and guests would not be gunning for any particular individuals to be on that nine-person committee. A final site selection is expected by late summer.
“This is about answering the questions that members of the RNC would have, and it’s about informing them, helping them understand what the attributes of our city are, and doing some general salesmanship,” List said. “It’s what Las Vegas does. We put on conventions like no place else in the world.”