Charlotte to host Republicans in 2016? Just talk so far

efrazier@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 7, 2013 

When it comes to the notion of hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention, Democrats and Republicans in Charlotte agree on three points:

It would be nice to have. It’d be a lot of work. And it’s getting late if anybody wants to lay the groundwork for a serious bid.

Political and civic leaders say they hear talk around town about how the Queen City should make a play to host the 2016 gathering – especially in light of last year’s successful Democratic National Convention.

“That’s been the talk since the DNC was here,” Mayor Patsy Kinsey said Thursday. “We did such a good job with that, why shouldn’t we want to host the Republican convention?”

But nobody’s taken the lead and started organizing the way the late Susan Burgess did back in 2009, when she arranged a meeting with newly elected Mayor Anthony Foxx and others to talk about hosting the 2012 Democratic convention.

“I’ve heard talk,” said former Mecklenburg County Republican Party Chairman Lee Teague. “But it’s been more like chatter than, ‘Let’s do this.’ ”

It’s not like Republican leaders haven’t taken notice of Charlotte.

The Republican National Committee held its 2013 Winter Meeting in Charlotte in January. A spokeswoman said then that the party would start soliciting requests from cities sometime this year and begin the convention site selection process in 2014.

“It’s always a possibility,” GOP Chairman Reince Priebus said at the time when asked about Charlotte’s chances. “North Carolina was good to us. And it’s a red state – all the more reason to look at Charlotte.” Republican Mitt Romney carried North Carolina in the 2012 presidential race, and Republicans took the governor’s office and retained both houses of the legislature.

It’s not too late

It’s not too late to make a run at the convention, said City Council member Warren Cooksey, who worked on the unsuccessful effort to bring the 2000 Republican convention to Charlotte.

He said when he worked on that effort, the group’s first organizational meeting was in June 1997, the search committee visited in 1998, and the party announced in late September or October of that year that they’d picked Philadelphia.

“That would mean we are a little behind in putting together an organizing committee” for 2016, Cooksey said. “You’d need to have something going on by early 2014 to be a viable candidate for it.”

He added that he’s seen a lot of “secondary support” for a 2016 bid, but no one has stepped forward to champion the effort.

Should Republican Edwin Peacock be elected mayor this fall, he presumably would be a pivotal player in any effort. Peacock said he hasn’t heard a lot of talk about chasing the Republican convention, but said some of the early signals from the national party suggest it could be well received.

He cited the national party’s January meeting, and the state party’s June convention in Charlotte that attracted party powerbrokers such as former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. This has been a lot of smoke – and a lot of good smoke – toward Charlotte,” he said.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory likely would play an even larger role in any effort. His spokeswoman didn’t immediately return messages from the Observer Thursday.

Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, said he hasn’t heard of any efforts to form an exploratory committee, but there’s still time.

Tillis “supported the idea of the Democratic National Convention coming to Charlotte,” Shaw said. “I’m sure he would support the Republican National Convention coming as well.”

September’s Democratic convention brought thousands of visitors and the international spotlight to Charlotte for President Barack Obama’s renomination.

The city’s hotels posted their best month in at least four years. A study found that the visitors injected $91 million in new spending into the local economy for a total economic impact of nearly $164 million.

Kinsey, a Democrat, and Peacock expressed confidence that the heavily Democratic City Council would join forces with local Republicans behind any push for the next Republican convention.

“It’s good for the city,” Kinsey said.

Big payout means big support

Some Republicans questioned whether any effort would encounter resistance from one high-profile corporation they’d need for financial support.

Teague, the former county party chair, said some wonder if Duke Energy would want to steer clear after taking a financial hit from last year’s convention.

Then-CEO Jim Rogers led fundraising for the host committee, and the utility guaranteed a $10 million line of credit to the committee.

Obama banned corporate donations, but convention organizers created a separate fund called New American City that wasn’t bound by the restriction. Duke and other corporations gave to the fund.

The local organizing committee failed to meet its $36.6 million goal, and Duke earlier this year said it won’t be repaid the $10 million, which had been used by the host committee.

Because Duke could claim the loss as a business expense, its shareholders would only cover $6 million of the loan, the company said.

A Duke spokesman said Thursday that the company supported last year’s convention to help promote Charlotte, but any talk of a 2016 bid remains mere speculation.

“It is premature for us to comment on any level of support we would provide to a RNC bid,” Duke spokesman Tom Williams said in an emailed statement.

Tom Murray, head of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said the Republican National Committee hasn’t yet put out a request for proposals that would let cities know exactly what the party wants in its 2016 host.

An RNC spokeswoman didn’t immediately return messages from the Observer on Thursday.

Murray said the DNC did give Charlotte a big financial boost, but he added that less-high profile conventions and events also contributed to the $5.7 billion in economic impact the Charlotte region enjoyed last year from tourism-related spending.

“It would certainly be great to have it,” he said of the 2016 convention. But “while the DNC was huge and the Republican convention would be huge, there’s tons of other work that goes into producing a number as big as that $5.7 billion.”

Frazier: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com

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