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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks with reporters in Nashville on Nov. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Republicans have high hopes the city of Nashville can win a bid to host their party's national convention here in 2024.

The city is among a group of states now under consideration by the Republican National Committee for the convention, according to Republicans here.

"Stay tuned," Beth Campbell, a Republican National Committee member from Nashville, told executive committee members during a Dec. 4 meeting in Brentwood. "We have a very, very strong chance of securing this convention."

Cautioning that it was "a tall order," Campbell told executive committee members "You know what? We can do this in Tennessee. It's going to be good for the whole state, it's not just Metro Nashville."

Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. officials formally submitted the bid Dec. 8 to the Republican National Committee. That came after Republican Gov. Bill Lee's office earlier requested they do so, the convention group's president and CEO, Butch Spyridon, confirmed in a statement to the Times Free Press earlier this month.

Lee's office also asked the visitor bureau to seek bid specifications from the Democratic National Committee, which has yet to provide them, according to Bonna Johnson, the Nashville convention bureau's vice president of corporate communications.

Spyridon said "party leadership on both sides would be responsible for raising the necessary funds primarily from the private sector."

Efforts to reach Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Hendrell Remus were unsuccessful Saturday. Earlier this month, he said in a telephone interview that Nashville officials had not yet reached out to him about a bid. Remus said since being elected chair in January, he has mentioned to his counterparts elsewhere in the country "that if they want to have a good time," they should come to Nashville.

Blake Harris, the governor's recently departed chief of staff, has been heavily involved in the effort to get a convention in Nashville. Efforts to reach Harris last week were unsuccessful.

The Republican National Committee met in Nashville in August where Lee broadly hinted at Tennessee Republicans' interest in hosting a convention at an event he hosted for RNC members at the governor's mansion.

"What he said was Nashville loves a great party, and we'd sure love to host a really big, great party, but he wasn't over on it. He didn't say it in so many words but he hinted strongly," Chattanoogan RNC member Oscar Brock said at the time.

Costs for hosting a major national party convention run into the tens of millions of dollars. When Republicans held their 2016 convention in Cleveland, Ohio, to nominate then-candidate Donald Trump, the nonpartisan city of Cleveland committee reported raising just shy of $66 million, according to Cleveland.com.

Early during the 2020 presidential campaign cycle, Nashville leaders made an effort to get the RNC's convention but the administration of then-Mayor Megan Barry, a Democrat, later dropped the effort after deciding they couldn't make it work, The Tennessee Journal reported.

Nashville later briefly resurfaced as a last-minute replacement site for Republicans' convention in Charlotte, N.C., amid coronavirus restrictions. But Nashville Mayor John Cooper, a Democrat, concluded the city didn't have the money.

Republicans said Cooper is on board with the effort and noted his deputy and chief of staff Bill Phillips served as the Republican National Committee's chief of staff during the 1980s. Phillips is also no stranger to national conventions, having served as the manager of the 1988 Republican Convention in New Orleans.

Brock, Tennessee's Republican National Committeeman, said he would be "very excited" if Nashville was able to secure the 2024 Republican Convention.

"Nashville's come a long way in the past 20 years," Brock said, noting it has enough hotel room space in its central business district to accommodate a convention as well as a "gorgeous" new convention center. The city's Bridgestone Arena is an "ideal size" and Nashville is "really geared up" in the hospitality sector.

"They would do an excellent job," Brock said.

The major political parties have traditionally often sought to locate their presidential conventions in swing states in hopes of making a positive impression on voters come Election Day. While Nashville votes Democratic, Tennessee is staunchly Republican, and no Democrat has won a statewide race since Democrat Phil Bredesen won re-election in 2006. But Bredesen's U.S. Senate bid in 2018 ended in a loss to Republican Marsha Blackburn.

Democrat Al Gore of Tennessee famously lost his home state in the 2000 presidential election.

Brock said national parties' efforts to place conventions in swing states is less of a consideration in the age of cable television and the internet with wall-to-wall coverage.

"They appear to matter a lot less than they used to," Brock said. "I guess the feeling is the media coverage and social media coverage is so much more than the local coverage in the home state and it's become somewhat less necessary."

Cities including Houston, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Milwaukee have been cited in news accounts submitting bids for the Republican convention.

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden agreed, noting that "today information's everywhere. No matter what city you're in, it [the national convention] is going to be the story."

Golden, who said the convention could attract as many as 30,000 to 40,000, even more with delegates, their families, staffers, businesses, news organizations, lobbyists, and an army of others, said the amenities a city has to offer are highly important for national parties to consider.

Historic conventions are often identified by the city where they occur.

Having a convention in a city in Tennessee, "that would be that historical marker forever," Golden said. "The lore is the city that you go to — Nashville's resume [would be] forever as a convention city."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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