Momentum is behind KC nabbing 2016 GOP national convention

The 1976 GOP National Convention was historic because it marked the last time that such a gathering was involved in making a momentous pick between competing presidential candidates.

Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan weren’t exactly buddies that year.

For those of us around here, it was historic because it marked the last time Kansas City hosted a major political convention. My wife was a little girl then and was thrilled to see Walter Cronkite going up one of the escalators at Crown Center.

Now there’s speculation that Kansas City’s odds of landing the 2016 convention 40 years later are rising fast.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal this week quoted Dan Schwartz, the finance chair of the Nevada Republican Party, as saying that KC is Vegas’ chief competitor for the 2016 gathering and its 50,000 attendees.

A former GOP official in eastern Missouri corralled me on the phone this week to say that word out of DC is that Kansas City’s prospects are pretty dang good.

Cathy Nugent, one of the chief drivers to bring the 2016 convention here, is blunter:

“We are the frontrunners right now,” she said.

Kansas City faces several hurdles, none bigger than the idea that the city is located in Missouri and situated on the border with Kansas. Both those states are already considered Republican states for 2016 at a time when the GOP has opted for swing states to host its recent conventions. Think Tampa in 2012 and St. Paul in 2008.

But Nugent insists that other factors weigh more: Can the city raise the $50 million needed to stage it? (Yes, she says). Can the city transport the delegates around town? (The area’s got a great highway system). Can the arena and convention hall handle the load? (A solid yes, though area hotels are scattered far and wide).

Republicans aren’t that far away from picking a host city. Nugent said a decision is expected early next year.

Meantime, a Kansas City delegation that includes Mayors Sly James along with members of the Hispanic Chamber (a key demographic) is off to Boston next week to meet with GOP officials. A big jazz-themed reception is set for Wednesday to show off the city.

Republican officials will pick a site-selection committee. Within a month, a request for proposals is expected and the race will be officially enjoined.

With the convention possibly moving to June, several cities that are home to NBA teams might be out of the running because their arenas would be booked.

But not Kansas City. Not having an NBA team might, for once, be a good thing.