SALT LAKE CITY — The next Republican presidential nominee could be named in Utah.
After four months of study, the GOP has selected Salt Lake City as one of four finalists for the 2012 Republican National Convention, an event that could bring 30,000 people to the state for several days.
The other finalists will be announced early next week, and the winner will be selected in late summer after GOP officials visit each city.
If Salt Lake City gets the bid, the 2012 event would be the first GOP convention held in the Intermountain West. Denver hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
"We've always been considered in politics to be flyover states," said Jeffrey Hartley, a member of the committee formed by former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. in October to put together a bid for the GOP convention. "We're too small in electoral votes to merit a presidential visit. You don't go where you know you're going to win. That's just politics."
However, in the past five years, normally conservative Western states have turned "an awkward shade of purple," Hartley said.
"Democrats have gained a lot of strength in the Rocky Mountain region," he said. "In Montana six years ago, every state office was held by a Republican, and now they're all held by a Democrat. Colorado has done the same."
In the initial bidding, Salt Lake City was up against 16 cities from across the country, including Phoenix, Denver, San Antonio and Tampa, Fla. Many of those cities have record heat and humidity every year during the last week of August, and the committee has passed up Florida in the past for fear of hurricane season.
"We talk about climate as much as we can because we're competing with miserable places," Hartley said, noting that temperatures in Salt Lake City usually are around 85 degrees at that time of the year.
The review committee also liked the fact that Salt Lake City had hosted the Olympics, has big venues and enough hotel rooms to keep delegates close to Utah's capital city, he said.
"You have to look at what's within 30 minutes to an hour of the main arena," Hartley said. "In Minnesota, the Utah delegation was housed over an hour away form the arena. In (Philadelphia), we were two hours away. Salt Lake has within an hour of the arena all the ski resorts, outdoor recreation, five major reservoirs — so much to offer the delegate experience."
Most Utah politicians have been supportive of the convention, even Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, both of whom are Democrats. Despite party differences, they say the economic impact of the convention would be good for the entire state and county.
"The upside for the state is tremendous," Hartley said. "That supersedes any political interest by one party or the other. If the Democrats wanted to come here, a lot of people would want them to come here, too. Thirty-thousand people coming for any reason is great for the economy."
The final decision won't be made until the end of the summer, but Hartley said GOP Chairman Michael Steele is anxious to make a decision early in the presidential race.
"We all know there's somebody who's tied to Utah that may be in the race in 2012," Hartley said, referring to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and former leader of the 2002 Olympics. "That may help or it may hurt Utah's chances, depending on how close he is. So we need to win this on our merits regardless of whether Romney is in this race or not."
Until then, Hartley remains confident that when members of the review board visit Salt Lake City in April, they'll like what they see.
"That's where I think we can shine," he said. "If we can get them to come, we can be a legitimate contender because we have so much to show them."
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