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Enid Mickelsen: GOP may name two finalists for 2016 convention

Published February 20, 2014 10:26 pm

Politics • Utah Republican Mickelsen oversees a tall task.
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Washington • Instead of announcing a single city to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, GOP officials may pick two finalists to gain leverage in ironing out the details with the eventual winner.

Enid Mickelsen, who served a single term in the U.S. House as Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz, heads the GOP's convention selection committee. She said Thursday that's one of the options Republicans are considering. Choosing two cities to compete against each other during final deliberations could help the Republican National Committee gain some advantage that it had lost in the past by heralding one host and then figuring out the remaining minor, but costly, issues.

"A lot of the nuts and bolts really only come out when you're sitting down negotiating the contracts," Mickelsen says.

A former chairwoman of the Utah Republican Party, Mickelsen also says she will limit the aggregate amount of gifts to committee members to less than $200 during site visits. Bidders can give a hat or a T-shirt but no bundles of cash in trying to curry favor.

"This is not something where someone is going to get rich or put their kids through college" by being part of the selection committee, Mickelsen says. "We are not the IOC," a reference to the International Olympic Committee, which took bribes from Salt Lake City organizers bidding to host the 2002 Winter Games.

Republicans may crown their next presidential nominee in grand Las Vegas style, nominate that person a mile high in Denver, add a little Southwestern flavor to the show in Phoenix or slather on some barbecue sauce to the party in Kansas City. It's a big decision that has impacts on how the GOP is perceived during the general election, how big of a poll bounce the party could get from the confab and how organized Republicans look in the minds of voters.

The last two GOP conventions were marred by weather-related problems, including a hurricane that sunk the first day of the 2012 gathering in Tampa, Fla.

Several cities are vying for the gathering in two years that could bring upward of $200 million in economic revenue, tens of thousands of visitors and hours of national TV coverage.

As head of the selection committee Mickelsen is essentially the queen of the ball.

"For a few months," Mickelsen jokes, "and after that, I have the eternal hatred of all but one city."

City officials will pitch Mickelsen and her fellow committee members March 3 in Washington on why their home is the best place to showcase the GOP, and that they can handle the security logistics and house the crush of people. Committee members will then tour a handful of semifinalists in April and could, as Mickelsen says, whittle the list to two potential sites.

The Republican National Committee ultimately will approve the winner at its August meeting.

Michigan's Holly Hughes, who headed the Republicans' site-selection panel in choosing Tampa, knows the difficult job facing Mickelsen. The winning city must be able to raise up to $60 million to help with convention costs, have a workable transportation plan and ensure that the venues, potential terrorist targets, can be air-tight security-wise.

"It's quite a task," Hughes says, noting that, in Tampa, officials had to overcome the challenge of the convention site abutting a river for which the Secret Service needed boats to patrol.

"You take all those different factors," Hughes says. And, of course, "You make all these decisions without knowing who the nominee will be."

Be it Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, Gov. Scott Walker, Rep. Paul Ryan, both of Wisconsin, or a host of other Republicans potentially seeking the White House, the criteria Mickelsen is eying remains the same. She says she's impervious to pressure and understands the bidders' position since she led the effort last go-round to bring the convention to Salt Lake City. The city was a finalist but lost to Tampa; Utah's capital is not vying for the convention this time.

The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, has already said it wants to hold the convention earlier in the summer of 2016, perhaps in June, to give the GOP nominee more time to campaign in the general election and gain access to funds that can be spent only in that time period.

Mickelsen says there's good — and a touch of bad — about each of the cities lining up to bid for the convention, and, in the end the GOP needs to find the "most stable platform" from which to introduce its nominee and the Republican message to voters. Some cities may be perfect right now, others may need to age for a cycle or two.

"They each have good things to promote," Mickelsen says. "They each have weaknesses. So part of my job is figuring out what the right balance is at the right time."

tburr@sltrib.com