GOP 2016 in Las Vegas? Why not?

Imagine the scene at the newly finished MGM Resorts arena:

Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn share the stage after delivering blistering indictments of President Barack Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“And now,” Adelson intones, “let me introduce you to the next United States senator from the great state of Nevada, Brian Sandoval.”

“Say goodbye, Harry (Reid),” Wynn laughs, as the governor comes onto the stage, the crowd of convention delegates goes wild and outside a small group of Democratic protesters gamely hold up signs that say, “It’s never sunny in Sandoville.”

Welcome to “GOP 2016 Las Vegas,” an Adelson-Wynn production, subtitled, “You can come to Vegas and blow a lot of cash.”

So cue the hooker and “Hangover jokes and let the Vegas caricatures begin. But is there so much fear and loathing of Sin City that this move by Nevada’s GOP elite to secure the convention is more like the hallucinations of a Strip drunk at 3 AM than a sober proposition by a smart, committed group of people?

I don’t think so.

(Conflict of interest declared up front: I would love it for all of the obvious, selfish reasons.)

To be sure, there are plenty of impediments, including, as The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson pointed out, a concerted effort by Kansas City and the Koch Brothers to be the site. But while the Kochs may be Americans for prosperity, Wynn and Adelson are brothers in arms who know how to gamble and win.

I will not join what promises to be a torrent of gaming metaphors (rolling the dice, etc.), but I know this much about the people involved here: They would not be moving forward if this were just a pipe dream.

Remember how we all scoffed in 2007 when we heard that the Democrats were trying to get Nevada as an early caucus state to make us a real player in presidential politics? But the Democrats had a slightly influential guy named Harry Reid carrying that water and he delivered. Who do the Republicans have for this heavy lift?

It’s a pretty impressive team. The two most prominent casino barons, who have given tens of millions to the GOP and can buy a lot of favor.  A Hispanic governor with stratospheric popularity ratings (image is everything, another Nevada guy once said). GOP consultants Ryan Erwin, Mike Slanker and Adelson lieutenant Andy Abboud, who know a thing or two. Jack St. Martin, who, as Wilson pointed out, is an old GOP hand and knows how to count RNC votes. And Charlie Spies, a DC lawyer/lobbyist with ties to Nevada who can help from the right coast.

Then there is the man leading the bid, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who may have found the job he was born to do. The man who has been Sandoval’s understudy – and will be again in 2016 against Reid and if the governor demurs, he won’t – is a natural-born salesman, with that ready smile, ingratiating manner and preternatural affability.

There’s a lot in this for him, too, including a way to keep his name alive for a couple of years before he, perhaps, announces against Reid, whom he blames for getting him indicted when he was mulling a 2010 bid. Krolicki, who was stung when Sandoval essentially revoked his goodwill ambassadorship by taking over economic development, has a second life now.

All the pieces are in place. This is not something that was done without much preparation and thought.

But I still see two major impediments to the Vegas bid and one minor one.

First, the major:

►Sin City. Remember this decision is made by a Republican National Committee subset, and that membership may be important.

“I don’t know if the 16 or so old biddies who eventually get put on the RNC site selection committee are going to want to hold a convention in a place with so many … well, you know,” one expert told me. “They (Team Vegas) make the case that gambling, etc are in the mainstream, and that there were more strip clubs in Vegas Tampa, but still. Big stigma.”

Said another veteran observer with inside knowledge: “The issue is going to be evangelicals on the RNC. And whether they can stomach endorsing Sin City.”


Krolicki downplays the issue but does not ignore it. “Las Vegas has evolved into a destination where we move beyond those old stigmas,” he said Friday. “The proof is Las Vegas holds 22,000 conventions every year, including religious associations and groups. Our job is to tackle that and make it clear. We have a compelling story. It’s a value proposition, there are logistical efficiencies, there’s fun.”

Now to persuade the biddies....

►The venue: Those involved tell me they are working toward a solution, but let’s get one thing clear: Adelson ain’t building an arena. That’s not on the table.

So that leaves three possibilities right now: Upgrading the aging Thomas & Mack, using the refurbished Las Vegas convention center or hoping the new MGM Resorts arena, slated to be done in spring 2016, is complete. I have to think the latter is preferable, but the timing could be dicey.

Size should not matter. All could accommodate the 20,000 or so capacity needed. For context, consider the capacity for the last three national Republican conventions: The Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Xcel Energy Center and Madison Square Garden are all in the 20,000 range; the Thomas & Mack seats 19,500 (but it is not state of the art) while the new MGM venue is expected to seat 20,000.

“We would not have announced ourselves if we did not have a very compelling venue story,” Krolicki argued, saying the plan is “not ripe to share” but will be next year. “We have a strategy that will be incredibly compelling to the RNC.”

The only other obstacle – and it may prove to be minor – is the serial spectacle that is the Nevada Republican Party circus, with all of its sideshows. There will be idiot eruptions from time to time – this is a guarantee – but I’d guess the Establishment believes it can contain them, relegate the nutty party types to the background. The Democrats will send news releases, but the RNC site selection committee likely won’t care.

In the end, one DC insider told me, “conventions go to cities and bidders who can pay, period. It is why less than ideal cities politically end up with conventions. So I don't write off this bid.  It is so hard for parties to find private donors to pay for this.”

Adelson and Wynn will open their checkbooks for this, I’d guess, with the former’s more substantial than the latter’s but both surely wanting a piece of the event. My guess is that part of this equation could greatly enhance the Vegas bid.

So this is no faux New York City or ersatz Paris. This bid is not fake, as some might assume or sneer. To steal and twist one of the more famous "Seinfeld" lines: It’s real, and it could be spectacular.

(Sin City image from