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Republicans in search of the perfect party town

After landing in Kansas City, members of the RNC Site Selection Committee stopped to applaud the Schlagle High School Band that was performing for them. Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star/The Kansas City Star

Steve Duprey’s political resume is long and diverse: member of the Republican National Committee, champion of the New Hampshire presidential primary, trusted adviser to Senator John McCain, and, this year, the guy who helps decide where the GOP will party down in the summer of 2016.

Duprey, a lawyer and real estate developer from Concord, N.H., is one of eight people elected by the RNC to vet potential sites for the next Republican national convention. They’ve spent most of June jetting from Cleveland to Kansas City, Mo., and Denver to Dallas, touring stadiums, hotels, art galleries, and restaurants in search of the best city to host the GOP’s massive quadrennial pep rally.


Duprey, who earned the nickname “Secretary of Fun” while traveling with McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, enjoyed touring entertainment venues like the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and Coors Field in Denver but said the committee considered serious issues, too. How many police officers will be needed to patrol the streets? Will there be dedicated bus lanes for delegates? How will the security perimeter change the flow of traffic?

“We take lots of notes,” Duprey said. “We have briefings. Then we ask more question.”

The list of variables goes on: How long does it take to get from the most far-flung hotel to the convention center, in terrible traffic? Will delegates have somewhere to take their children during the day? What if a bunch of staffers get hungry at 2 a.m.?

“People come not only for the history of it; they come to have fun and get fired up about working in the fall,” Duprey said. “You want to make sure that the hotel that’s 25 minutes away has restaurants that are going to stay open, not just the Denny’s.”

As anyone who was in Boston during the summer of 2004 can attest, a political convention is about a lot more than floor speeches, delegate counts, and falling balloons. It’s a multiday event with months of advance work and plenty opportunities for things to go wrong. It’s also expensive to host. The GOP’s chosen city will be expected to raise $60 million, but the prestige was enough to entice eight cities to place bids with the RNC late last year. (That initial group was later pared down to four finalists.)


“Every city has its own reason to host one of these events,” said Enid Mickelsen, chairwoman of the selection committee. “I think that’s the same if you’re bidding for the Olympics or the Super Bowl. Each of these cities has to have a driving interest in doing this.”

That interest manifested itself in many ways during the site selection tour. In Dallas, Cowboys cheerleaders greeted committee members at the airport, and a pair of live elephants was waiting when they arrived at that city’s American Airlines Center. They toured the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. In Kansas City, a high school band played on the tarmac.

But Duprey says he most enjoyed meeting people who love their cities as much as he loves his hometown in New Hampshire.

“Every single one of these cities has tremendous community leaders who love their communities and put in a tremendous amount of volunteer time,” he said. “People have tremendous pride in their communities. They’re incredibly enthusiastic.”

For Duprey, touring potential convention sites is the latest stage of a political career that started when he was still in his teens. At 19, he was elected to New Hampshire’s Legislature. He served four terms as chairman of the state GOP and has worked on dozens of campaigns, including both of McCain’s presidential bids. Between political gigs, he has built a reputation as a civic booster, building a pair of office building that helped revitalize downtown Concord, serving on the board of the local YMCA, and, at Christmas, hosting a free community dinner.


This mix of political and civic savvy has helped Duprey understand how each city might handle the demands of the convention and support what he and his fellow committee members call “the delegate experience.”

“It really helps to have committee members who have been around the [political] process for a while,” said Mickelsen. “It’s very easy to get dazzled. . . . You make friends out of the process, but in the end you have to disappoint all but one of the parties.”

The 2016 Republican convention is expected to draw 6,000 delegates and alternates and at least 15,000 credentialed journalists. There will also be protesters, political tourists, and campaign staffers. A host city must have 17,000 hotel rooms within 30 minutes of the convention center and enough smaller venues to accommodate a week of parties big and small.

“Any given night, either before or after the convention, there will be 100 fund-raisers going on, everyone from congressmen to governors,” Duprey said. “You have to have lots and lots of venues: restaurants, art museums, botanical gardens.”


Duprey and the other committee members wrapped up their trip last week, but they’re keeping their opinions on potential host cities to themselves — at least until the party meets to make a formal decision this summer.

“I have no favorites,” Duprey said. “I love any one of the four cities. There is no perfect city. It’s the one that can meet the biggest number of variables.”