Republicans visit North Texas to scope out potential 2016 convention site

06/09/2014 8:22 AM

06/09/2014 8:23 AM

Sue Evenwel would like nothing more than to see Dallas host both the state and national Republican conventions in 2016.

“It would be great,” the Mount Pleasant woman and delegate to this year’s state GOP convention said. “Texas is a leader in political thinking.”

She might get her wish.

The state party has already booked Dallas for its state convention in 2016.

And this week, the Republican National Committee’s site team heads to Dallas — one of four cities still in the running to host the next national convention — to check out the options for hosting an event that could draw 50,000 delegates and thousands of journalists and spectators.

They have already visited Cleveland, Denver and Kansas City.

“The selling point is our location,” said Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We are in a central part of the country.

“We have a thriving and regional economy,” he said. “And the last time the Republicans met in Dallas [in 1984], they won the election with Ronald Reagan. I hope that works in our favor.”

Jason Millsaps agrees that it would be a great thing for the national convention to be held in Texas.

But he wonders if it might better benefit the party to have it somewhere else.

“As much as I’d love for it to be in Texas, I would love to see it in a state we need to win,” said Millsaps, a delegate to the state GOP convention from The Woodlands. “Texas is a stronghold state.

“The convention rallies up the state base,” he said. “It’s a big motivator.”

‘Go somewhere ... you have support’

The last time a national political convention was held in Texas was in 1984, when the National Republican Convention was in Dallas.

That year, President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush were nominated for re-election.

Dallas officials say it’s time for the convention to come back, which is why they’ve promised to raise $60 million to host the event, and are already more than two-thirds of the way there to raising the money.

And that’s why they have former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings among those leading the charge.

The plan would be to hold the bulk of the events at the American Airlines Center and then use the AT&T Stadium in Arlington for either the opening or closing night event of the convention.

“A very impressive way to close out the convention is to have it at the AT&T Stadium,” Jones said. “We could have it full of officials and residents who could launch [the party’s presidential candidate’s] bid with fanfare.”

He said most delegates could make it to Dallas on a three-hour flight. And he noted that with the hotel rooms available, they could locate 80 percent of the rooms needed within 4 miles of the American Airlines Center, which would limit the need for shuttles.

Ernest Angelo is among those who say 2016 is the right time for the convention to return to Texas.

“The party has made a mistake in trying to go places, thinking that having the convention there will ultimately help the presidential campaign,” said Angelo, who served as co-manager of Ronald Reagan’s Texas presidential primary campaign and helped host the 1984 convention in Dallas. “It hasn’t helped.

“You need to go somewhere where you have support already and you can have a hugely successful convention,” he said. “Texas is at the top of that list.”

‘It’s about time’

Now that the Republican National Committee’s site team has already visited the three other cities in the race, they head to Texas from Wednesday through Friday to check out what North Texas has to offer.

During their stay they will visit the American Airlines Center and AT&T Stadium, attend a reception at one of the buildings in Dallas’ art district and be given a driving tour of Dallas.

“The goal is to have them leave with the understanding this is an exciting city and region,” Jones said. “We want to update the brand image of Dallas and North Texas fro them. The last time we hosted a national convention, it was 1984, and the area has changed dramatically for the better since then.”

As Texas Republicans met last week in Fort Worth for their state convention — and made plans for their next state convention to be in Dallas in 2016 — some said they feel good about their odds of heading to the city twice for conventions in two years.

“I am admittedly biased, but I like Dallas’s chances,” Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri said in a newsletter sent out to party members.

He said the money the community has committed to raise to draw the convention to Texas, along with the amenities available in Dallas, “makes it a very attractive site.”

“The RPT has already picked Dallas as the site of the State Convention in May 2016, so it would be quite a coup for Dallas if we could have back-to-back Republican conventions in the city,” he said.

Bob Sisk, a delegate at the state convention from Emory, agreed.

“A lot of prestige would come to Dallas with hosting both conventions,” he said. “It’s about time it comes back.”

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