Utah Bid to Host 2016 GOP Convention Could Cost Upwards of $30 Million

Utah GOP officials are looking to make a formal bid for the next Republican National Committee’s presidential selection convention in 2016.


But the state party’s national committeewoman, Enid Greene Mickelsen, says that could be a terrible mistake – the national conventions are too expensive, and Utah Republicans could struggle keeping their fundraising promises.

As you may recall, Salt Lake City was one of three finalists – along with Tampa Bay and Phoenix – for the 2012 national GOP convention.

“It’s just too expensive” for the local city, state and GOP establishment’s to bear, Mickelsen, a former state party chair who currently sits on the RNC’s budget committee, told UtahPolicy on Monday.

But Utah GOP chair James Evans said: “I’m excited about it; we are going forward” with putting in a bid to the Republican National Committee.

Tampa Bay won out, in no small part because Republicans wanted a big showing in Florida in 2012 knowing that state’s Electoral College votes could be key in winning the presidency.

As it turned out, the 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost Florida to President Barack Obama.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a story a week ago saying Nevada GOP officials are considering bidding for the 2016 national Republican meeting.

Of course, Las Vegas is one of the great convention cities, not only in the U.S. but in the world. And Nevada is becoming a state up for grabs in a presidential election.

Arizona and Utah are solidly Republican. So if the national GOP wants to go to a swing state, they wouldn’t be looking here.

“It costs at least $40 million” to the local GOP community “to host one of these conventions,” said Mickelsen, who sits on the NRC’s budget committee and is aware of the dollars required to successfully host the traditional four-day national convention.

Other GOP sources told UtahPolicy that Utah’s share would be closer to $30 million – but in any case, $30 million or $40 million is a lot of money.

“We finished 2nd last time” to Tampa Bay, noted Evans, who took over his chairmanship this spring. “That tells me Salt Lake City has the wherewithal to host this event. We did the Olympics (in 2002). We could certainly do this.”

Mickelsen said that the Utah State GOP and local party boosters got into Utah’s bidding process a bit late in the 2012 cycle.

Already, she noted, the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau and Gov. Gary Herbert’s staff were tooting Utah’s horn before the state party got on board.

“But they really didn’t know what it takes to win one of these conventions,” said Mickelsen.

Actually, it was lucky, she says now, Utah didn’t win the 2012 convention – which in the end was shortened to three days because of a threat of a hurricane heading toward mid-Florida. (It missed.)

Five years ago Utah economic development leaders starting looking at bidding for the 2012 event three years out – which is about where we are now in looking for the 2016 convention.

In May of 2010 the national RNC picked Tampa Bay. If the same schedule is followed this time around, it would be next spring when the RNC would pick their 2016 site city.

It costs a lot of bucks to put on a national convention – estimated at more than $100 million last time around.

Sources said the host state/city must raise between $30 million and $40 million. The national party kicks in another $20 million. And because both party conventions are national security events (likely targets for terrorists), the federal government pays around $50 million for security.

“This is not widely known,” said Mickelsen, but Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign had to kick in some money to “bail out” the Tampa convention. Mickelsen said she didn’t know how much, but it was a well-known fact within top GOP national circles that Tampa fell short of what was required.

“And Tampa had what they thought were solid (financial) commitments from a number of Florida millionaires” to help out with that convention, Mickelsen said.

But it would be quite hard for the Utah GOP to raise $40 million locally, said Mickelsen. And U.S. Senate, House and local Republican candidates would see less campaign money for themselves if the state Utah GOP was out trying to raise $40 million.

Evans disagrees. He envisions that most of the local match Utah would have to raise would come from national sources, who traditionally give every four years as sponsors of the convention.

“Since most of that money comes from out-of-state, I don’t think it would” impact the ability of local GOP candidates to raise money in 2016, Evans said.

Said Mickelsen: “Basically, you have to set up a multi-year fund raising organization to get to $40 million. It’s a huge effort.”

A separate 501(c)3 nonprofit is set up by the host committee, so donations can be tax deductible, said one Utah Republican leader.

Between 45,000 and 50,000 people attended the conventions in 2012, including delegates from each state and several territories, media and party loyalists who love to go to the convention city to party and be involved, even if many attendees don’t have credentials to the convention hall itself.

Evans said if Salt Lake City nabbed the bid, it would bring tens of millions of dollars into the Utah economy and be a boost to Utah’s reputation.

Such conventions are a big deal. I’ve attended many of the conventions for the Deseret News, starting in 1988 when the Republicans went to New Orleans.

New Orleans is reportedly considering a bid again in 2016; no doubt part of their argument is the need to help rebuild that city’s economy.

While debatable, many believe the George W. Bush administration botched the hurricane-aid of Katrina, and it would be nice for the national Republicans to help Louisiana, which as a state is trending Republican these days.

Besides Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, those considering a 2016 bid include New Orleans, Kansas City, and Phoenix. Reportedly it is the turn for a western city to host the GOP convention.

Hosting a convention “is like building a small temporary city; the power requirements for the media, the security, all the needs you have,” Mickelsen said.

NRC members are considering – talking about – changing how they hold their every-four-year conventions.

“Do we really need four days in this day of digital communication?” Mickelsen said national party leaders are asking.

But those who organize such conventions add that it really doesn’t cost much to have an extra day or two, the money is really spent in getting the huge convention centers ready for the process.

It’s true that fewer and fewer folks are watching the convention each night.

During the last few conventions, the national networks were giving up just an hour or so each night, longer on the final night (Thursday) when the party nominee addresses the convention and accepts the nomination for president.

You can still watch extended coverage on CNN, Fox News and other cable channels.

While Salt Lake City and Utah state government successfully hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics (headed, as you may know by Romney), the Olympics are growing in interest (and in cost), while the national political conventions aren’t growing in interest.

“I don’t know how much the Romney campaign kicked in” to Tampa, Mickelsen said. “That is a carefully guarded secret, and I sit on the (national party’s) budget committee – although the convention committee is a separate entity from the national party.”

“Tampa didn’t meet its financial obligations,” said Evans. “But I think Salt Lake City could.”

This October Utah Republicans are hosting a national GOP leadership conference. And state party officials are hoping it will be a chance to showcase Salt Lake City, its convention facilities and the strong GOP base found in Utah.

UtahPolicy is told there have been several meetings over the last few months about the possibility of going after the 2016 national GOP convention.

“This effort really is not put on by the (state) party,” said Evans. Historically, a local group of boosters set up a convention bid committee, which funds itself and goes forward with the bidding process.

Evans said he hopes to get the “same group” – plus others – to join in Salt Lake City’s 2016 GOP convention bid.

The RNC convention bidding process is a bit strange, sources familiar with the organization said.

Like bidding for the Olympics, a special committee is set up to pursue the bid. While it’s likely local GOP leaders would be on it, that is not a requirement. And the state party’s Central Committee – the group of 150 or so Republican stalwarts elected to that governing board by state delegates – doesn’t have to approve the bid, although it would help if they supported it.

Should Salt Lake City win the 2016 convention, “the state party wouldn’t be putting this one – the convention committee would,” said Evans.

Tampa Bay was basically promised the 2012 convention after national party leaders picked Minneapolis-St. Paul for the 2008 convention.

It was Tampa’s third bid attempt when it got the 2012 convention, and three years ago after losing its bid, Salt Lake City leaders said they likely would have to bid several more times before being awarded the convention.

Evans believes Salt Lake City has a good chance of winning the 2016 bid, since it finished 2nd in the bidding process the last time.