The Republican National Committee plans to send two people to Arizona, possibly this week, to review the Phoenix area as a possible site for the party’s national convention in August.
Officials were reviewing schedules to determine what day makes the most sense for the visit, said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., who has been leading an effort to land the Republican National Convention since President Donald Trump said Tuesday the GOP was pulling out of Charlotte, N.C.
The quadrennial event has opened up as a late possibility because North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper could not assure Trump that large crowds would be permitted by the time of the August convention. Cooper remained concerned about the spread of COVID-19.
Burdett Loomis, professor emeritus at the University of Kansas, said Arizona would be a good place for Republicans to showcase the ticket because of its battleground status and marquee Senate race.
But it could strain resources and present a host of problems, given the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests over police brutality.
“Certainly, it would be something of an economic boon, but honestly, be careful what you wish for,” Loomis said. “Not on when it comes to the virus, but you have the most problematic presidential candidate in a long time … and with the protests, there is a great possibility of violence. There certainly would be protests, and the logistics of handling that, to say nothing of handling the convention, would be extraordinary.”
Gordon James, a Republican consultant who has worked closely with the late former President George H.W. Bush and his family and was part of the failed efforts to bring the GOP to Arizona in 2012 and 2016, called the current attempt “a challenge.”
“The upside is possibly be a lot of great business for the hotels and restaurants and all that,” he said. “The downside is there’s no time to get organized.”
Lesko has been in contact with the RNC and with Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, about the matter. She is advocating an Arizona-based convention at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, which is in her West Valley-based district.
“I think it’s exciting and it would be good for our business community,” she said.
Even if the convention did come to Arizona, holding it in the West Valley could be problematic. Many of the area’s upscale hotels and restaurants are concentrated in downtown Phoenix and in Scottsdale.
That’s where the bulk of visitors and tourist-related revenues during the Cactus League, for example, wind up every year.
An RNC official confirmed to The Arizona Republic that metro Phoenix is among the areas officials will be visiting in the coming days to scout locations for the convention.
Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman pointed to Ducey’s comments on the subject last week, as the problems over crowds in North Carolina were becoming apparent. Ducey, who has faced criticism for his decisions to effectively close the state’s economy because of the virus and for when to reopen it, said then that the decision would rest with Trump
His spokesman, Patrick Ptak, did not respond to The Republic’s attempts to discuss the level of the governor’s involvement in trying to secure the event.
Trump said the GOP will look for an alternate site after North Carolina officials could not guarantee a traditional, heavy crowd due to concerns about the coronavirus.
That has sent GOP officials scrambling to find another site, with immediate contenders in Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Nevada.
Others, such as Kelli Ward, the Arizona Republican Party chairwoman, have openly lobbied for Arizona to be in consideration for the convention.
“How fitting would it be for President Trump to once again become our party’s nominee for president, and to launch his re-election in the home state of Sen. Barry Goldwater, whose own presidential candidacy served as the springboard for the Reagan Revolution and 12 years of Republicans in the White House,” Ward wrote in an opinion piece published Wednesday in The Republic.
The Phoenix area has sought the Republican convention before, such as in 2012, but the region’s intense summer heat was called disqualifying.
At the time, Arizona was at the center of a national furor over Senate Bill 1070, the state’s controversial immigration-enforcement law. But then-Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he was assured that the state’s hot weather, and not the immigration controversy, was the reason Phoenix lost out to Tampa, Fla.
“I talked to a number of RNC members, and a number of them said it’s just too hot in August,” McCain told The Republic in 2010.
Salt Lake City, Utah, also had made the GOP’s three-city shortlist that year.
James recalled the two efforts he was part of and why Arizona didn’t make a pitch for 2020 originally.
“In 2012, they did a tour. The committee came in and we were in the last three and didn’t get it,” he said. “In 2016, they didn’t even give us a tour. And then we didn’t bid on it in 2020.
“They asked us to and we chose not to, mainly because Sen. McCain was still alive at that time. President Trump and Sen. McCain were fighting at that time, and we didn’t think that was a good idea.”
Republican insiders within the Arizona GOP had been quietly making plans to make a play for the 2024 Republican National Convention, in a post-Trump era.
Arizona’s heat remains a concern, along with others, such as logistical details, the cost and the competition.
Kirk Adams, a business consultant and Ducey’s former chief of staff, said the state’s status as a battleground state and tourism destination are upsides for holding a convention in the state.
But the summer’s blazing heat and the COVID-19 pandemic could be difficult to overcome.
“A convention of that size in the summer, post the pandemic and the impact on our hotel and lodging and tourism industry will certainly be a huge boost in the arm for that industry,” he said. “It would be positive in that way. The other positive thing as a I see it is it should shine a spotlight on Arizona as one of the handful of key states in the next election that’s going to decide who the president of the United States is.”
James was less concerned about Arizona’s weather.
“We pitched it in 2012 and 2016, and it’s hot,” he said. “It’s the summer everywhere in the country. You don’t think it’s hot in Charlotte, North Carolina?”
Trump and Cooper exchanged tweets Tuesday about the convention rift as Trump announced he was pulling out of Charlotte.
“Roy Cooper and his representatives refuse to guarantee that we can have use of the Spectrum Arena — Spend millions of dollars, have everybody arrive, and then tell them they will not be able to gain entry,” Trump tweeted.
“Governor Cooper is still in Shelter-In-Place Mode, and not allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised. Would have showcased beautiful North Carolina to the World, and brought in hundreds of … millions of dollars, and jobs, for the State.”
Cooper said his focus was on public health first.
“We have been committed to a safe RNC convention in North Carolina and it’s unfortunate they never agreed to scale down and make changes to keep people safe. Protecting public health and safety during this pandemic is a priority,” Cooper tweeted.
Convention locations are partly a function of the ability to host such a sizable event, but also based on political considerations, such as whether the area is part of a swing state or whether its backdrop sends an intended message.
It’s why, for example, Republicans held the 2004 convention in New York City following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The political calculations don’t always work out. McCain accepted the 2008 GOP presidential nomination in St. Paul, Minn., in a state carried by his Democratic opponent Barack Obama.
In 2012, the Republicans held their convention in Tampa, in a state that Obama would pick up that year, while Democrats held their convention in Charlotte, N.C., a state that would go to Republican Mitt Romney.
In 2016, Trump carried Pennsylvania after Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia.