SALT LAKE CITY — Word had leaked out weeks ago and already had been celebrated in Utah. But the Republican National Committee officially announced Friday its three finalists to host the 2012 Republican National Convention — and one is Salt Lake City.

The other two are Phoenix and Tampa, Fla. So the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 will be chosen officially in one of those three cities.

"We were thrilled to receive bids from these three dynamic cities in key regions of the country, and the committee looks forward to working with each city's representatives to determine the best city to host the 2012 convention," said Holly Hughes, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee's Site Selection Committee.

The RNC selected the finalists during its winter meetings a month ago in Hawaii, and word leaked out about the finalists, but Friday's announcement was the first official confirmation by the RNC.

Hughes said the site selection committee will visit the three cities in late March and early April. The RNC is expected to visit Salt Lake City from April 5-7.

Hughes said the site selection committee will present its recommendation to the RNC at its summer meeting in July, and the RNC will make its final decision then.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele said, "Phoenix, Tampa and Salt Lake City are all amazing American cities, and I wish them the best of luck with their bids."

Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen said the convention would attract between 25,000 and 35,000 people. "We've proven from the Olympics that we can host a very large event and do it very well. We have the facilities. We have the housing."

He added that no area of the country is probably as faithful as Utah to the Republican Party.

"I think we have a good shot at it," Hansen said, although he notes that Tampa was a finalist last time.

"But we don't have hurricanes," like Tampa, Hansen said laughing. "We don't have 115- to 120-degree temperature that time of year, either," like Phoenix.

The selection committee has nine members, and three alternates, from around the nation. Each of four regions nationally has at least two members to help ensure equal geographic representation.

Of the three finalist cities, only one — Tampa — is in what is considered a swing state in presidential politics. Meanwhile, Salt Lake City is seen as closely tied to at least one potential presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, and is solidly Republican. And Phoenix is tied to the last GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The last two Republican conventions were in Minneapolis in 2008 and in New York City in 2004. The last two Democratic conventions were held in Denver and Boston.

In the initial bidding, Salt Lake City was up against 16 cities from across the country. Some that did not make the final cut include Denver, San Antonio and Houston.

Utah officials earlier said the initial review committee liked the fact that Salt Lake City had hosted the Olympics, has big venues and has enough hotel rooms to keep delegates close to Utah's capital city without long commutes.

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