Ohio still in running for convention nod

Cincinnati, Cleveland make pared-down list, Columbus out.

Cincinnati and Cleveland are still in the running for the 2016 Republican National Convention, but Columbus was ousted Wednesday as the list got narrowed to six potential sites.

That Ohio still has two cities in the running illustrated the state’s importance to the presidential fortunes of whoever is the nominee.

The Republican National Committee’s site selection committee announced that Denver, Las Vegas, Dallas and Kansas City also remain in competition, while Phoenix was eliminated along with Columbus.

“In any other year, Columbus and Phoenix could have topped the list, but with so many strong cities competing, the committee had to make the difficult decision to narrow the field,” said Enid Mickelsen, chair of the RNC’s site selection committee. “Phoenix and Columbus are great American cities, and I hope they’ll pursue a future bid for an RNC convention.”

It wasn’t immediately clear why Columbus was knocked out. Former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, a member of the Republican National Committee, said fundraising is an important consideration, but she wasn’t sure if that led to Columbus’s elimination.

“Columbus did a very good job in presenting themselves,” she said. “I was hoping in my heart of hearts that I would see all three of them make the cut.”

Cincinnati billed itself as a site that could pull support from three states – Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana – while also emphasizing the backing of House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., among other prominent Republicans. GOP Sen. Rob Portman is also from Cincinnati.

“I know many other great American cities are in contention for this honor, but few have Cincinnati’s political significance, vibrant culture and ability to shine on the world stage,” Boehner wrote in a letter supporting Cincinnati’s bid.

Cleveland, which tried to land the convention in 2008, is emphasizing a host of interesting venues — including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the city’s botanical gardens — as great sites for receptions and fundraisers. “I think Cleveland is ready to handle it,” said former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert T. Bennett, who is backing Cleveland’s bid.

Perhaps the biggest advantage the three cities posed is they are in Ohio, which Republicans are desperate to capture after losing in the last two presidential elections. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio.

However, having three Ohio cities in competition was seen as both an advantage and a disadvantage. Although it meant at least one would make the final list, the three competing sites served to divide support among the state’s GOP elite.

“You’ve got to whittle the field down somehow,” said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, an RNC member.

A small team of RNC staff will visit the six cities for a more in-depth and technical look at financing, convention venues, media workspace, and hotels. After that, the committee will determine which of the six cities will receive an official site visit from a delegation of RNC members. The RNC hopes to select a site by late summer or early fall.

Las Vegas, with its multitude of hotels and GOP donors, and Dallas, which has already raised about $40 million for its bid, are thought by some to be front-runners to host.

Interested cities were required to have convention hall space that would accommodate at least 18,000 people, 350 air-conditioned buses and at least 5,000 volunteers, not to mention at least $55 million to throw at the convention.

But the committee made it clear there were other priorities as well – cities had to be walkable, or at least have hotels near the convention site because of transportation issues in 2012, when delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa ended up sitting on buses for hours after the convention.

Interested cities, too, had to be able to put up a big chunk of the bill: They were asked to be able to raise at least $55 million in order to host.

Columbus’s disappointment may be short-lived. Although the Democrats haven’t named any finalists, the city has been mentioned as a strong candidate to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

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