It’s down to Dallas and Cleveland.
On Wednesday, Republican leaders narrowed the list of possible sites for the 2016 national convention — booting Denver and Kansas City from consideration — and opened a door to the possibility that AT&T Stadium in Arlington will host a special event if Dallas is chosen.
“We are excited to be in the top two,” said Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Obviously, we would have preferred it if they called and said, ‘You’ve got the bid.’
“I’m feeling cautiously optimistic, but we are not there yet.”
The decision, announced after GOP officials met in Washington, D.C., follows visits to the final four cities being considered.
“Cleveland and Dallas demonstrated their ability to host a phenomenal convention in 2016 and the RNC is excited about the prospect of hosting our convention in either of these great cities,” Enid Mickelsen, chairwoman of the site selection committee, said in a statement.
“These world class cities know how to roll out the welcome mat and more importantly, they have the ability to provide our next presidential nominee a launching pad that will put a Republican in the White House in 2016.”
If Dallas — home to former President George W. Bush — is chosen, it would be the fourth time a Texas city has hosted a national political convention.
The last time was in 1992, when George H.W. Bush was nominated for president in Houston. Before that, Ronald Reagan was nominated in Dallas in 1984.
And in 1928, Alfred E. Smith was nominated for president at the Democratic National Convention in Houston.
Officials have indicated that a final decision could come in early August, but Jones said it could happen in the next week or two after Republicans make another quick trip to Cleveland to try to answer questions.
Dallas has long been considered a major player in the competition, partly because of its coalition of wealthy donors with ties to the Bush family and the oil industry.
The Dallas bid to host the convention calls for using the American Airlines Center for most of the events.
Despite earlier reports that AT&T Stadium would not be used, organizers said Wednesday that the bid still includes the option of using the stadium for special events.
That could include opening or closing ceremonies — or a special event before the convention.
“They were very impressed with the AT&T Stadium and what it could offer as an alternate venue for a special event,” Jones said.
Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said he is glad that Dallas is still in the hunt and encourages all of North Texas to support the bid.
“I’m very excited about this,” he said. “I think the chances that Dallas could land this are very good.”
He said he is awaiting word on what he can do to help and would love for AT&T Stadium to host any event — “at the beginning, ending or somewhere in between.”
“I don’t care what is held there,” he said. “I’ll be there. And I’ll do whatever I can to make sure it’s successful.”
The site selection committee visited North Texas this month, checking out the options for hosting a convention.
Texas pride was Texas-size that day as cheerleaders, the Kilgore College Rangerettes — even two live elephants — turned out to greet the committee at the American Airlines Center.
The brief visit included a tour of the center, a reception in Dallas’ art district and a driving tour of the city. Committee members met with various North Texans, including oil baron Ray Hunt, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Dallas Police Chief David Brown, even country singer Pat Green.
Cleveland officials rolled out the red carpet for the GOP as well, and Republicans there say they are still working hard to convince the committee that they are the right site.
“Cleveland is the ideal location to host the convention,” Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges told The Associated Press. “We will continue to work with them to bring the convention to the nation’s most important political battleground.”
Republican officials have said they want to hold the national convention early in the summer, before the traditional start time.
The Dallas bid proposes holding the convention from July 18 to July 21. The Cleveland bid calls for the week of June 27 or July 18.
“If they end up going with the earlier June dates, that’s out of our control,” Jones said. “We told the RNC from the beginning that we didn’t have the ability [to host the convention] in June.
“We are full in June.”
Jones said he believes that local officials have addressed the two main issues for the event: transportation and money.
Dallas officials, who promised to raise $60 million, have said they are more than two-thirds of the way there.
And local organizers noted that they could find 80 percent of the hotel rooms needed within 4 miles of the American Airlines Center, limiting the need for shuttles.
Many have said the key is placing the convention where it can energize voters and perhaps swing a state to the Republican column.
That could be a big plus for Cleveland because Ohio is a swing state.
Texas doesn’t fit that bill, but supporters have said it could be a perfect location for the national convention.
“We will do everything we can to try to position Dallas as the city that can do the best job,” Jones said.
At the same time, the Democratic National Committee continued its own search for a convention site. Officials said they will send a team to all six cities still in contention — Birmingham, Ala.; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; New York; Philadelphia; and Phoenix.
A decision could come this year.