GOP Showcases Minorities, Women, Moderates

By: - August 30, 2004 12:00 am

State officials playing prominent roles at this week’s Republican National Convention will highlight the GOP‘s ongoing effort to increase diversity in its ranks.

Trying to put a fresh face on the Republican Party, organizers are spotlighting a host of state officials who are minorities, women or moderates by placing them in speaking or other prominent roles at the convention, which runs Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 in New York City.

Coveted speaking assignments in the days leading up to Republicans’ formal re-nomination of President George W. Bush are going to Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R), one of only two African-American lieutenant governors in the nation, Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval, a Hispanic Republican, and Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R), a woman.

Prominent — though largely ceremonial — convention positions will elevate the profiles of State Rep. Jennifer Carroll, the first black, female Republican elected to Florida’s House of Representatives, and Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, one of four women among the Republicans’ 28 governors.

The convention’s news coverage and network television exposure give Republicans a chance to try to dispel their image as overwhelmingly white and male. Forty-four percent of the nearly 5,000 delegates at the GOP convention this year are women, up from 36 percent in 2000, according to party officials. Minorities will make up 17 percent of the delegates this year, compared with 10 percent four years ago.

Because of rules regarding delegate selection, minorities made up more than 40 percent of delegates at the Democratic Convention in Boston at the end of July, and women accounted for fully half of the delegates.

Hispanics, targeted heavily by both parties as a key constituency in battleground states such as Florida and New Mexico, will be the largest minority group represented at the Republican convention and make up 43 percent of the New Mexico delegation, according to GOP figures.

The convention also will feature five other Republican governors: all white men. But three of those — chosen for prime-time speaking roles — were elected in traditional Democratic strongholds and are considered social moderates: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and New York Gov. George Pataki. Their presence could help spread the party’s appeal to independent and undecided voters.

Republicans also are zinging Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry by tapping his home state’s governor, Romney, to speak. But the most surprising choice to speak at the convention is a Democrat: U.S. Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, a former governor, who will take the podium during the prime-time slot on Wednesday evening. Miller last spoke at the 1992 Democratic convention when then-Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas was nominated.

Overall, the mix of speakers will be a more realistic view of the GOP than at the party’s 2000 convention in Philadelphia, when minorities were disproportionately featured, said Scott McClean, political science professor at Quinnipiac University in New Hampshire. “Four years ago, did you see how many African Americans were on the [convention] stage? It was fantasyland,” he said. “It did not reflect where the party was.”

Two other governors who are not speaking will play key convention roles, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who both come from rock-solid Republican states and reflect the more conservative side of the party.

Barbour, a longtime GOP lobbyist and former Republican National Committee chairman, and Owens, one of Bush’s top fund-raisers, are helping to shape the party’s platform. Owens is chairman of the platform subcommittee war on terror, and Barbour is chairman of a subcommittee deciding party positions on family issues.

Besides revving up support for President Bush among party loyalists and undecided voters, those recruited for convention assignments gain cachet in the party as rising stars.

One of the GOP’s new faces is Steele, the former head of the Maryland Republican Party. Steele is to address the convention Aug. 31 while the state’s chief executive, Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R), has no speaking role. There currently are no African-American governors.

Steele, who studied to be a priest at Villanova University seminary, is valuable to the party because he is both a minority and conservative, said Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Unlike some of the other state officials who have prominent convention speaking roles, Steele opposes abortion rights. But as a devout Catholic, he also opposes the death penalty, putting him at odds with many in his party.

Carroll, from the crucial battleground state of Florida, was appointed chairman of the convention’s Committee on Permanent Organization. She spoke at the 2000 convention, and is co-chairman of the President Bush’s Florida campaign committee this year.

The Republican Party is doing what it does best by giving everyone an equal opportunity, said Carroll, who grew up in New York after emigrating with her family from the West Indies as a child.

Lingle, of Hawaii, will have a parliamentary role as the convention’s temporary chairman. Elected in 2002, she is the state’s first woman governor plus its first Republican governor in 40 years.

Staff writer Erin Madigan contributed to this report.

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