The Republican Party on Thursday announced four finalists to host its 2016 national convention -- Cleveland, Dallas, Denver and Kansas City, Mo. -- after Las Vegas withdrew its bid in the face of strong opposition from some conservatives in the GOP.
Cincinnati, which was vying as well, also dropped its bid ahead of the official announcement, which followed a conference call by the party's site selection committee.
Members of the committee will visit the four remaining cities over the next several weeks and a final decision is expected in the late summer or fall.
For a time, Las Vegas and Dallas were seen as the two front-runners to host Republicans. The cities boasted amenities that no others offered, including abundant hotel space and a clutch of generous GOP mega-donors prepared to guarantee the event's financial success.
But Las Vegas, which has hosted all manner of conventions but never a national political gathering, was plagued by its libertine image, which is both a major tourist attraction and source of civic cringing.
A group of social conservative leaders recently wrote to Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, objecting to Las Vegas as convention host, calling the city "a metaphor for all things decadent." Among other things, the letter noted that a review of the local phone book counted 64 pages of escort services.
"At a time when the base needs to be motivated, this is no time to mute or offend them in any way," the letter said.
Some members of the Republican National Committee, the GOP's governing body, also expressed concern about an April decision by libertarian-leaning Nevada Republicans to drop anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage language from their party platform.
In an interview earlier this month, Nevada's Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval praised the move as a model for the national party, suggesting it needs to abandon ideological litmus tests if it hopes to win back the White House.
But others viewed the move as a betrayal of the party's fundamental principles.
"I am not surprised Vegas dropped out," Ed Martin, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party and one of the state's two representatives on the RNC, wrote in an email. "When the Nevada GOP recently dropped the pro-life and marriage planks, it made it impossible for the pro-life, traditional marriage Republican Party to choose Vegas for a convention."
In withdrawing its bid on the eve of Thursday's meeting, Las Vegas' host committee alluded to its crowded convention schedule -- the city is the nation's top convention destination -- and concerns about the time needed for preparations.
"Two primary conditions must be fully met by any competing bid city," wrote Brian Krolicki, Nevada's Republican lieutenant governor and the head of the host committee. "The ability to provide a traditional arena facility to physically accommodate the convention; and an on-site preparatory period deemed sufficient by your technical consultants to comfortably allow for an anticipated convention commencement date in June of 2016. Las Vegas is currently unable to meet either one of these requirements."
Neither the host committee nor the Republican Party alluded to the city's racy reputation.
"All cities excelled in nearly every aspect of the bids," the head of the selection committee, Enid Mickelsen, said in a written statement, suggesting Las Vegas and Cincinnati both "would make excellent hosts should they pursue efforts to host a future RNC convention."
Cincinnati also cited problems with its convention facility in withdrawing its bid.