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October 30, 2014

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Nevada Republicans formally pitch Las Vegas for 2016 convention

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Steve Marcus

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald attends a rally for immigration reform at the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, headquarters Monday, July 1, 2013.

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Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

State Republican Party officials approached national leaders this week with a big pitch: Bring the 2016 Republican National Convention to Las Vegas.

Touting the support of Sheldon Adelson, billionaire Republican donor and owner of Las Vegas Sands, Nevada Republican Party chairman Michael McDonald planned to pitch Las Vegas as an attractive host site during a summer meeting of GOP officials in Boston this week.

Hosting the convention would require tens of millions of dollars, meaning big donors could play an outsized role if they’re willing to contribute to a city’s bid to host the convention.

And McDonald said he has Adelson’s backing, though the Sun did not receive a reply to an email requesting comment from Las Vegas Sands.

McDonald first pitched the idea at a spring meeting of the Republican Party in Beverly Hills, saying a convention in Las Vegas would allow Republicans to:

• Reach a youthful, diverse population that calls Las Vegas home as well as align the Republican Party with young, minority voters.

• Take advantage of Las Vegas’ reputation as an international convention destination.

• Boost enthusiasm for Republicans in a swing state in the United States’ politically dynamic Mountain West region.

Nevada Republican Party officials have been mulling over the complexities of this bid since April, said Dan Schwartz, finance director of the Nevada Republican Party.

Their main competition might be Kansas, where organizers have been working on a plan for more than a year.

Groups in Kansas and Missouri are working together, and they’ve established a nonprofit host committee that’s coordinating the Kansas City bid, said Kathy Nugent, executive director of Kansas City 2016, the nonprofit that’s fundraising to help attract the RNC to Kansas City.

“We are armed and ready to put a bid together and hopefully show off Kansas City and Missouri as one huge region,” she said.

Republicans in Nevada said they expect strong competition from the Kansas City crowd because of the possibility that the Koch brothers, Kansas’ own billionaire Republican donors and owners of Koch Industries, could donate lots of money to attract the convention to Kansas and Missouri.

“The Koch brothers are the only ones in KC that have the resources — and demonstrated willingness — to write a $10-$20 million check to the RNC (Republican National Convention),” Schwartz wrote in an email to the Sun. “If Sheldon (Adelson) does not get involved, Las Vegas will not have a shot at it, either.”

Nugent declined to disclose donors, saying only that their bid is a “whole community effort” and it would be “irresponsible” for Nevada Republicans to say the Koch brothers are involved.

“If they give, they’re going to give quietly, anyway,” she said.

Koch Industries spokesman Rob Tappan said, "Koch is not involved in the 2016 Republican National Convention bid process."

Instead, other families and community stakeholders are lining up to pledge their support. Among them is the Hall family, which owns Hallmark Cards Inc., said Todd Tiahrt, Republican National Committeeman for Kansas.

“The Hallmark family and some of the other big Kansas City institutional names are very much behind this,” Tiahrt said. “The communities on both sides of the state line are devoting resources.”

Schwartz said New Orleans, Salt Lake City and Phoenix are also putting together bids.

Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham plans to host a reception Aug. 15 at the GOP summer meeting in Boston. An invitation for the event invites Republicans to “experience a taste of what the Valley of the Sun has to offer for the 2016 Republican National Convention” with margaritas, southwestern food and “western hospitality.”

While Las Vegas also prides itself on hospitality, socially conservative wings of the Republican Party might balk at the city as a convention destination because of the its reputation for decadence, careless indulgence and irreligiosity, said Robert Uithoven, Reno-based GOP operative.

McDonald said he’ll focus his pitch on the infrastructure Las Vegas has to offer.

Las Vegas could certainly support the estimated 50,000 people who could visit for the convention. It has an international airport, plenty of hotel rooms and is known internationally as a convention destination.

"Any convention brings business, fills hotel rooms and delivers dollars to our community," Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said. "I'm enthusiastic about bringing any type of major convention to our city."

But the city’s success could actually hamper the RNC bid.

“We are always interested in new business but would need to analyze the logistical requirements of convention space — and for what time period — to determine space availability given the current calendar of shows already under contract,” said Jenelle Jacks, communications manager with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The Republican National Convention requires a lengthy time commitment because organizers must retrofit an arena and provide adequate time for workers to make security enhancements to the host facilities.

In addition to scheduling concerns, Schwartz said there’s a “shameful” lack of appropriately sized venues in Las Vegas.

He has examined sites like the Thomas & Mack Center and other arenas near the Strip and none appear satisfactory. He said Las Vegas would need the type of mega-events center that developers are hoping to build on the UNLV campus.

But stakeholders are studying that project and won’t deliver a report on its feasibility until early 2015.

While a dearth of venues may appear to make the Las Vegas bid little more than a mirage in the desert, Schwartz says the venue ultimately might not be a problem.

“There’s one last option,” he said. “It’s that Sheldon builds a stadium: the Adelson arena.”

Much of the chatter around the marketing campaign to attract the convention to Las Vegas includes Adelson. Little of it mentions Nevada’s elected Republicans.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s spokesman said only that Sandoval thinks it’s a good idea.

“Gov. Sandoval is interested in the prospect of bringing the convention to Las Vegas, and thinks it would be a great opportunity for the state,” spokesman Mac Bybee said.

Representatives from the offices of Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., did not provide comments for this story.

“The person who is going to drive this will be Sheldon Adelson. Full stop,” Schwartz said.

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