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Utah GOP hopes to host 2016 Republican National Convention

Utah GOP hopes to host 2016 Republican National Convention

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah GOP Chairman James Evans is pushing hard for Salt Lake City to try again to host the Republican National Convention, this time in 2016, despite concerns about the $40 million price tag raised by another party official.

"It's an excellent opportunity to export to the rest of the country just the enormous benefits of a conservative political philosophy," Evans said Tuesday. "I think Utah is the prime example of how great the rest of the country can have it."

But Utah Republican National Committeewoman Enid Mickelsen said while she likes Evans' enthusiasm, at least $40 million would need to be raised to showcase the state during the selection of the party's presidential nominee.

"It is an enormous financial drain on the community," the former congresswoman said. "I'm proud of our community. I know we could do it. I participated in (the bid) last time. But doing it last time, I learned a lot about the financial side."

Three years ago, Salt Lake City was named one of three finalist cities to host the 2012 Republican National Convention, which the Republican National Committee ultimately awarded to Tampa, Fla.

Phoenix, the other runner-up, may also bid for 2016, Evans said, and officials in both Las Vegas and Kansas City, Mo., have expressed interest in pursuing the next GOP convention.

Evans said he appreciated Mickelsen's concern, but is confident Salt Lake City could raise the required funds.

"You have to remember, the money doesn't need to come out of Utah," he said. "We just have to show we can raise that money."

You have to remember, the money doesn't need to come out of Utah. We just have to show we can raise that money.

–James Evans, Republican GOP

The new party leader, elected earlier this summer, said he believes the national GOP is ready to move away from the past practice of selecting a swing state in the presidential election for the convention.

"I think it's time to have a new approach," Evans said, especially since Florida went for the Democratic candidate in 2012, President Barack Obama, despite Tampa hosting the GOP in late August of that year.

But Mickelsen, who started attending national GOP conventions in 1980, said that's going to be a hard sell. Salt Lake City's 2012 bid tried and failed to sell the national party on featuring a strongly Republican state, she said.

"It really doesn't come up in the political calculus," Mickelsen said. "You usually don't put a convention in a state you know you're going to carry no matter what."

Utah Democrats, who hold far fewer elected offices than their GOP counterparts, may be sensing an opportunity. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, tweeted Tuesday that Republican conventions "are usually in swing states, so let's make UT one!"

Evans said work needs to get underway on a new Salt Lake City bid, since the national party is expected to make a decision on the convention site in April or May 2014.

Both the Salt Lake Chamber and Visit Utah, the state's convention and visitors bureau, backed the 2012 bid and are expected to get behind another attempt to bring the GOP convention to the state.

"I don't think anything has changed in terms of our interest in hosting it," chamber spokesman Marty Carpenter said. "From a business perspective, we would love to host an event of that magnitude."

Visit Utah spokesman Shawn Stinson also said he believes there's still interest in going after the convention, even though the cost "is a pretty substantial chunk of change."

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