As Charlotte closed in on winning the 2020 Republican National Convention, city officials — and the GOP — pushed back against the idea that the city had no other serious competition.
Before a 6-5 City Council vote Monday to approve RNC contracts, Republican council member Tariq Bokhari said it was a “false narrative” that Charlotte’s only competition was Las Vegas.
“This is a confidential deal. ... People don’t want to raise their bid to be known,” he said. “The fact of the matter is seven cities wanted this, they absolutely wanted this, and it was narrowed down to five and then four and then two. And now that we are at the altar it’s just us and Las Vegas, but it’s an absolutely false narrative that no other city wanted this.”
On Wednesday, the Republican National Committee’s site selection committee unanimously picked Charlotte to host the 2020 RNC, according to two sources. The RNC is expected to officially approve Charlotte on Friday as part of its summer meeting in Austin, Texas.
This week, site selection chairman Ron Kaufman said seven other cities also had wanted to host.
There were in fact seven cities that, at one time, were curious about the RNC. But for various reasons, almost all declined to bid.
That left only Charlotte and a bid from the Nevada Republican Party, which said it could host in Las Vegas, even though city tourism officials there weren’t participating in the proposal.
The selection process began in December, when the Republican National Committee sent letters to numerous cities across the country, including Charlotte.
The GOP held an “Interested Cities Day” about the Republican National Convention Jan. 30 in Washington, D.C. Representatives from Charlotte, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville and Phoenix attended, according to Ryan Mahoney, a GOP spokesperson.
A tourism official in Dallas said no one from his organization attended Interested Cities Day, though officials had a conference call with the GOP around that time.
Attending that event did not mean those cities were bidding.
The Jan. 30 event was a chance for tourism officials to ask what Republicans wanted and needed, and what the cities and host committees would be expected to do. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority’s biggest concern was that the Convention Center would be in the middle of a renovation and expansion, and tourism officials were worried that would be a deal-breaker. (It was not.)
The RNC’s original deadline for bids was Feb. 28, but that was extended.
An official with the Republican National Committee said the GOP handled the selection process differently for the 2020 convention than for past conventions. The RNC was more proactive in keeping the list of potential cities small, and some cities were quietly told they would be unlikely to be picked, according to the official, who asked to not be identified because he is not authorized to speak about the site selection process.
In Charlotte, the city and the CRVA submitted a detailed bid that was based, in part, on their experience hosting the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
What about the other cities?
Dallas is used to hosting large conventions, and hosted the 1984 RNC. But Dallas decided against bidding for the 2020 RNC.
“Dallas took a hard look at the RNC bid requirements – twice – but we could not meet all of the requirements needed to put together a bid (dates, available hotel rooms, venues etc.),” Frank Librio, chief marketing officer for Visit Dallas, told the Observer. “We notified the RNC that we would not be placing a bid.”
He said the city also considered bidding on the 2020 DNC, but decided not to.
Nashville is one of the nation’s biggest convention cities. But the city’s communications director told the Observer in late April that “we did not put in a bid and don’t plan to.”
Phoenix also did not bid. Cynthia Weaver, director of communications with the Phoenix Convention Center, said the city decided it already had enough large events that year. When asked whether the city was concerned about the possibility of large protests, Weaver said there wasn’t one single reason.
“We just chose not to pursue it at this time,” she said.
Milwaukee has never hosted a major national political convention. But after the 2016 presidential election, in which Donald Trump narrowly won Wisconsin, both parties were interested in having the state’s largest city bid. Republicans and Democrats are increasingly putting their conventions in swing states, hoping the convention will get their voters enthusiastic about the election.
Milwaukee tourism officials said they attended Interested Cities Day but decided against bidding. They bid for the 2020 DNC instead, and are a finalist for the DNC with Houston and Miami Beach. (Denver submitted a DNC bid, but withdrew.)
A tourism official in St. Louis said he didn’t know if the city ever submitted a bid. Staff members who work for the city’s mayor also didn’t know, and there are no media reports about the city bidding.
In Las Vegas, the Convention and Visitors Authority told the Observer in early May that the GOP had asked the city about bidding.
“Unfortunately, we do not have the availability in our various facilities to accommodate the event, so we had to decline the opportunity to bid,” said Jeremy Handel, the senior director of communications with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
The city of Las Vegas was also not involved in a bid.
Though the city and the local tourism authority were not involved, the chair of the Nevada GOP, Michael McDonald, was still pushing the gambling mecca, and he submitted a bid. McDonald didn’t have a site lined up for the convention, though he suggested a new indoor football stadium under construction would be a good option. That stadium is scheduled to be finished in the summer of 2020, around the time of the convention.
In the spring, Brad Parscale, President Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, lobbied for San Antonio to make a late bid. The City Council declined to bid. Before council members voted in closed session, Hispanic activists said the city should not bid due to the Trump administration’s push to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
After San Antonio did not bid, it appears the GOP was left with two possibilities: Charlotte and Las Vegas.
Las Vegas has a massive convention industry, and numerous venues that could have hosted. But Nevada GOP’s proposal hinged upon the RNC trusting that the Nevada GOP could fill in the details later.
Earlier this week in Charlotte, Democratic activists blasted council members for being willing to host the convention. Others said the RNC would inject millions of dollars into the local economy.
Council members voted 6-5 in favor of hosting, though some Democrats who have voted yes decried the Trump administration.
Staff writer Jim Morrill contributed.