Politics & Government

Las Vegas is Charlotte's only competitor for GOP convention. Is it a serious challenger?

Charlotte's only competition for the Republican National Convention is Las Vegas.
Charlotte's only competition for the Republican National Convention is Las Vegas. AP FILE PHOTO

To win the 2020 Republican National Convention, Charlotte has presented a detailed bid, including sites for convention events, a police security plan, a list of corporate donors and a pitch from Mayor Vi Lyles.

The city's only competition for the convention is Las Vegas. The gambling city's bid for the RNC could be: "We'll figure it out later."

For starters, Las Vegas does not know where the convention would be held. The state's lieutenant governor, Republican Mark Hutchison, told the Observer in an interview Wednesday that the city's Convention Center would be the best place for the RNC.

"There are a lot of different sites," he said. "The logical place is the Convention Center."

But the city's convention center doesn't appear to be available, as of now. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has said it turned down the Republican National Committee's request to submit a bid. The group said it easily has enough space to hold a national political convention, but that it was already booked for the late summer of 2020.

A spokesman for the group said Wednesday that has not changed, and the convention center isn't available for the RNC.

But Las Vegas has other possible sites. The T-Mobile Arena recently opened, and two large casinos — the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay — have arenas that would be large enough to host. The University of Nevada-Las Vegas also has an arena, and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson's Venetian hotel also has a large convention center.

But Hutchison said no venue has been secured. He said he's confident the city and county could find a suitable venue if President Donald Trump decides he wants to be renominated in Las Vegas.

"We host the equivalent of a Super Bowl every weekend," he said. "We are waiting to hear what the president wants to do."

Las Vegas bid for the 2016 RNC but withdrew. At the time, Las Vegas planned to use its convention center to host the RNC, but the city found that the convention center lacked some amenities that the GOP wanted, like skyboxes, according to a 2014 article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The GOP picked Cleveland to host the convention.

Donald Trump formally accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination on the last night of the RNC, promising to fight for Americans, restore security, improve trade deals, and ultimately 'Making America First Again.'

Las Vegas was a late bidder for the 2020 convention, with the city's efforts first disclosed in May. By comparison, Charlotte announced it was bidding in February.

Hutchison said that's not a problem. He said the GOP is familiar with the city's vision for the political convention from that previous bid and that the city has so much experience hosting large conventions that a political convention would not be difficult.

In Charlotte, Lyles, the city's Democratic mayor, has been a leading spokesperson for the push. She has met with top Republicans in Charlotte and in Washington, D.C. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney also flew to Washington, D.C., to discuss the city's experience policing the 2012 Democratic National Convention and its plans for the RNC in 2020.

The 2020 Las Vegas bid appears to be led by a small group of Republicans, led by Michael McDonald, the state's GOP chair.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, an independent, doesn't appear to be involved in the bid.

"We aren't bidding," said Jace Radke, a spokesperson for the city of Las Vegas. "The city is not involved."

Some of the possible venues for the convention — such as the T-Mobile Arena and the casino arenas — are not owned by the city. But hosting a national political convention is complex, with security being a top priority. Local law enforcement must coordinate with the federal government to create a security plan.

When the Democratic and Republican parties seek bids for their conventions, there are usually numerous cities that either publicly bid or express interest.

But the 2020 RNC has been different. Charlotte was the only city to say it wanted the event.

San Antonio considered a bid, but City Council members voted against it. Hispanic activists pushed back against the possibility of the city bidding, saying it would damage ties with Mexico and be an insult to Hispanics living in the city.

In Charlotte, some activists have also questioned why the city should host the RNC, given the Trump administration's hard line toward immigration. That position has only become more controversial, after the administration has focused on separating children from their parents at the border when they cross illegally.

Immigrant community advocates gather to present an open letter to Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael demanding an end to the 287g ICE program, which they feel hurts the local immigrant community.

Charlotte political leaders have brushed off those concerns, even the city's most liberal council members. Lyles has said the convention would be an economic boom for the city, helping low-wage workers in the hospitality industry.

Throughout the spring, Charlotte political and business leaders have said the RNC site committee told them there were other cities bidding, and that the competition was intense.

But it appears those other cities either didn't make their interest public, or were never seriously considering trying to win the convention.

The RNC is meeting in Austin, Texas, in late July. People familiar with the bidding process said the GOP could name a winning city when that meeting finishes.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs