[Unconventional wisdom]

Why Las Vegas won’t host a political convention any time soon (duh)

Vegas has all the conveniences a political convention requires, as well as others that deter the DNC or RNC from setting up here, like strip clubs, poker tables and nearby brothels.
Photo: Jerry Miller

Denver and St. Paul are all-American cities, the sorts of places that host national political conventions. But why not Las Vegas? This city in many ways embodies the American dream. Union jobs and big companies work with relative cooperation. For years this city has been a story of entrepreneurship, growth and job-creation. Not to mention that this is the nation’s convention capital, a point the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority can’t seem to make often enough. There would be no delegates stuck waiting to get from Rally A to Policy Forum B.

“It sure would be convenient,” Hugh Jackson said, almost wistfully, as he was being interviewed from the Democratic convention, where he was trying to get between two destinations.

Jackson edits and writes the well-known progressive blog Las Vegas Gleaner and is a columnist for Las Vegas CityLife. While he’s a frequent and visceral critic of the casino industry, Jackson gets that when it comes to conventions, Vegas resorts knows how to make them hassle-free. “Las Vegas is just great at handling events like this in one place.”

So does Jackson foresee something like the Denver gathering ever happening here? No. “Vegas is too risky as Sin City. Maybe the Republicans can do it like Nixon going to China.”

Jackson explains that a convention is much more about setting than convenience and logistics. Neither party is ready to put forth the candidate for the nation’s highest office live from Sin City.

Review-Journal political columnist Erin Neff, who covered both party conventions, puts it this way: “For the next decade Las Vegas would not be able to host either convention. It has nothing to do with the logistics of a convention. Everyone knows Las Vegas surpasses most cities in everything that is called for in holding a convention. But we don’t have the credibility that any of these other cities have. It is too risky, with the casinos, and brothels in the next county, for either party to venture it.”

Neff notes that the host city is picked by a political party because of a mesh between the values the party is trying to project at the convention and the character of the host city, not to mention some geographical calculations that are blatantly political, such as: Is the city in a battleground state in which the convention might tip the scales?

While such geopolitical calculations have lately made Nevada a swing state, Neff says, “The focus of the Democrats this year was not just to hold their convention in the West, which is seen as key to their victory this year, but also to hold the convention in a city where their issues can connect with the city. All week long we heard [about] energy independence and renewable energy and clean energy—energy, energy, energy from these Democrats. Now, if you look at Las Vegas, how can we ever stake a claim to energy credibility? At this juncture we can’t.”

Neff concludes: “Maybe in two decades or so Las Vegas will be grown up enough to hold one of these conventions. At this point we can’t.”

Like Jackson, Las Vegas Sun political commentator Jon Ralston concurs that the Republicans are more likely to be the first to arrive in Las Vegas with a convention. But his reasoning is very different. “It is more likely the Republicans, now that the Democrats have held one out West,” says Ralston, who covered the proceedings in Denver. He, like Neff, estimates that it will take around two decades.

Ralston notes that contrary to common sense, there is a serious venue issue regarding Las Vegas because there are only a few places in town large enough to contain a nominating convention—such as the MGM Grand Garden Arena—and they are all in casinos. Using a resort as a host property could potentially lead to a set of gambling-wild-in-Sin-City stories that wouldn’t play well for either party.

“If you have it in a casino like MGM, that would create an entire set of issues and mocking used by the other party against you,” Ralston says. “The media loves the clichéd stories about Las Vegas. By holding the convention at a resort, all the stereotypes apply. If you had a stadium outside a casino it would be possible. To have it in a casino, especially on the Republican side, would strike many party leaders as viscerally a bad thing to do. But you need some place more modern than Thomas & Mack.”

Yet Ralston holds out hope that one day the city might host a major party convention: “Gambling has become more accepted. As the stigma of Las Vegas as Sin City dissipates over time, it could happen. And the stigma is already definitely dissipating. Remember, when you are talking about Las Vegas, anything could happen. So, many things that were once impossible then happened. I think it could happen. It would take the right confluence of circumstances. I think the right venue is one of those circumstances.”

But for now, no one expects either party to headline in Vegas.


Richard Abowitz

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