2:10 p.m.—Denver's postcard-perfect morning and its vistas gave the city at least a surface-level edge Tuesday in the competition to win hosting duties for the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Several members of a visiting site-scouting delegation "cannot stop looking at the mountains," said Enid Mickelsen, the Site Selection Committee's chairwoman. And they're keenly aware of Colorado's recent status as a swing state.
But during a news conference on the Pepsi Center's concrete floor — against the backdrop of the largest arena scoreboard screen in the country, displaying the Denver 2016 bid logo — she and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus stressed that the decision is all about business.
"People always want to read the tea leaves," said Mickelsen, who lives in Utah. "My job as site selection chairman is to make this a business decision. ... We're looking at the logistics of putting on a convention."
She and about two dozen other delegation members, including the 13-member site committee, are in the swing of their only full day in Denver, after arriving Monday. It's the third of four site visits this month. Dallas is next, Wednesday through Friday.
Priebus and Mickelsen, joined on stage by bid chairman Pete Coors and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, said many elements of the Denver bid have impressed them, chiefly its success in hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2008. (Last week, they also were effusively positive about Cleveland and Kansas City during site visits.)
Here are some of their comments:
• Denver's hosting experience: "It's been exciting to see that Denver really does want to host another convention," Mickelsen said. "Not every city that has hosted a national convention is excited to host it again. ... The experience that Denver brings to the table is very impressive."
Mickelsen and Priebus also favorably cited comments by local officials about lessons they learned in 2008 that could make the 2016 convention even better.
• Legal marijuana in Colorado: "Well, I'm not a big fan of the law," Priebus said, "but it hasn't played a role in this decision." Hancock, a Democrat, chimed in to say local officials have implemented the voters' decision carefully to avoid harming the convention industry.
Said Mickelsen: "I'm a Mormon Sunday school teacher from Draper, Utah. The mayor and I probably are not going to agree on how we thought this ought to have been done or implemented. However, it makes no difference to me as I'm looking at your facilities and your ability to put on a convention. It's just not something we look at as we're making a choice."
• Decision process:Mickelsen said the process changed significantly this year, with the addition of technical advance visits to competing cities in April, paving the way for this month's site visits. Before the full RNC ratifies the hosting decision later this summer or fall, it's up in the air whether the committee first will narrow the list to two cities, or simply recommend one to proceed to negotiations.
"I can just tell you, from the host committee perspective, whether there's two cities or one city, we're going full blast," Coors said. "... We're going to duke it out, in the best possible way."
• Fundraising challenge: Denver has raised less than the other cities, with nearly $11 million in pledges so far (and no public money being sought). But bid leaders say they're ahead of schedule. Priebus echoed that Denver is off to a good start, saying that raising money is the hardest task facing each city and one that will factor strongly in the decision.
"I don't think there's any negatives" about Denver, he said, but "it's an expensive ordeal. Basically, you're raising money for someone else to spend. That's what's going on here, so that's a very difficult thing."
• A family-friendly convention: "We won't lock this city down. We'll encourage the residents of this region to come down and enjoy the delegates and their families, just as we did in 2008, and make this a family affair in hosting our distinguished guests to our city."
After the Pepsi Center, the RNC delegation was headed to Coors Field for a working lunch. Tuesday afternoon's schedule included briefings and a tour of the Brown Palace Hotel, among other activities.
The agenda does not include a close-up look at Sports Authority Field, where the Democrats moved now-President Barack Obama's formal nomination on the final night in 2008. Mickelsen said it was too soon to know whether the Republicans would want to use the stadium, though she pointed out the logistical hassles of using two convention sites, as Democrats did.
Similarly, after the RNC expressed a fleeting recent interest in using AT&T Stadium in nearby Arlington as Dallas' main convention site, instead of the American Airlines Center arena, Mickelsen said the idea had been kiboshed.
10:22 a.m.—A visiting 2016 Republican National Convention site-scouting delegation arrived at the Pepsi Center Tuesday morning for a two-hour tour of the arena that would serve as the primary venue.
About two dozen people, including the 13 members of the Site Selection Committee, stepped off a bus from their downtown hotels just after 9 a.m. and walked in through the arena's Blue Sky Grill, whose name was true to conditions outside. Besides kicking the tires on the building, they also intended to evaluate its TV production capabilities. The arena also served as the main convention hall for the Democrats' national gathering in 2008.
"We want to make sure it makes our candidate look the best of all the candidates," said Jonathan Barnett, one of the committee's nine voting members and a committeeman from northwest Arkansas — or "Walmart country," as he put it. "This is about the election of the president of the United States of America. We want to elect a president. We're ready for a change."
Barnett has visited Denver several times before. "It's a great place," he said. "You know, we'd be very proud to be here. They'd do a great job for us."
With that, Republican handlers for the site visit cut off media access to the Pepsi Center tour. Nearly all the activities during the visit, which ends Wednesday, are closed to the media.
Later Tuesday morning, local officials including Mayor Michael Hancock and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus were expected to gather at center court for an 11 a.m. news conference to discuss the trip.
The delegation heads to Dallas for the last of four site visits Wednesday morning. The full RNC is expected to make a convention host decision in coming months, with Cleveland and Kansas City, Mo., also in the hunt.
Jon Murray: 303-954-1405, email@example.com or twitter.com/JonMurray