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GOP panel visit means New Orleans bid's alive

Republican National Committee staffers made a scouting trip this week to New Orleans, one of Tampa's competitors in the fight to host the GOP's national political convention in 2004.

The trip indicates that New Orleans still remains in the hunt to land the convention, despite talk that Republicans prefer Tampa or New York, party officials said.

"I take it as a sign that we're still in there," said Pat Brister, chairwoman of the Louisiana Republican Party.

If the GOP already had ruled out New Orleans, Brister said, "I wouldn't think they would have come back."

RNC staffers talked with New Orleans officials Monday about the city's financial package to help pay for the convention and its plan to place the media center in the New Orleans Arena, a 20,000-seat facility, Brister said.

The party's site selection committee visited New Orleans, New York and Tampa in August.

RNC staffers visited Tampa for a second time in late October, primarily to check out cruise ships that might be used to provide 2,000 hotel rooms close to the proposed convention site at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The return trips shouldn't be seen as particularly significant. RNC staffers told officials in each city they might follow up trips to check facts.

RNC spokesman Kevin Sheridan said all three cities still are in contention.

"All three of the finalist cities have submitted strong proposals and are capable of holding the convention," Sheridan said Tuesday. "Right now we are still exploring the details of each proposal, the strengths and potential weaknesses of all of the cities."

The RNC could announce a choice by mid December.

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