What the Republican convention speakers say about the GOP
Republicans have added four names to Monday’s initial list of seven speakers who will address the party’s national convention in Tampa, Florida later this month. Each of the 11 picks says something about the party — and the image GOP nominee Mitt Romney wants to convey as he seeks to introduce (or reintroduce) himself to a national audience.
Of the 11 announced speakers, four are women, five are current governors and three are men Romney has run against for president.
Below is a rundown of the names and why they were chosen.
*Rick Santorum: The selection of Santorum is about party unity and reaching out to social conservatives. Once a long shot presidential candidate, Santorum made a very respectable effort in the primary campaign against Romney. He fought the former governor to a virtual draw in Iowa and brought his fight for conservative principles to the national stage.
The former Pennsylvania senator still inspires a loyal national following of social conservatives, and his selection as a speaker will come as welcome news to them. It’s also a way for Romney to illustrate that whatever divisions were present during the primary have since healed.
For Santorum, who clearly has future national ambitions, it’s a chance to cement himself as the social conservative leader at the national level.
*Rand Paul: The selection of the Kentucky senator, who also happens to be the son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), is meant to please a loyal — and very vocal — national following of Paul-lites who are only loosely affiliated with the Republican party. The Pauls have increased their visibility and sway in national politics during the last four years, and while Ron Paul was largely ignored by convention planners four years ago, the selection of his son as a speaker is a clear message from organizers that the Pauls will not be overlooked this time around.
Rand Paul will be a candidate for president — whether in 2016 or 2020 — so he’ll want to use this national platform to boost his visibility outside of those people already devoted to his cause.
*Jeb Bush: The popular former Florida governor’s name was regularly floated by observers as a potential presidential and vice presidential candidate throughout the last 18 months for a reason — he is thought of highly among both conservative reformers and the establishment wing of the GOP. Education reform is an issue he is regularly associated with, and his selection as a convention speaker is also an opportunity for Republicans to highlight topics like charter schools and vouchers on a national stage.
And, of course, Bush — like Santorum and Paul — is regarded as a potential presidential candidate in his own right at some point down the line.
*Mary Fallin: Fallin is the first woman to serve as both lieutenant governor and governor of Oklahoma; she was also the first woman elected to Congress from the state since the 1920s. Her selection further underscores Republicans’ desire to make inroads with women, especially at a time when Democrats are charging Republicans with waging a “war on women.” (Sidenote: Fallin may well be the most popular governor in the country; she had an almost 70 percent approval rating in a Sooner Poll earlier this year.)
*Nikki Haley: The South Carolina governor’s selection also adds another woman to the mix, but it also brings youth and diversity to the convention — two characteristics the GOP does not want to yield to Democrats. Haley is the youngest sitting governor in the country and is Indian-American. She’s also someone many Republicans believe will wind up on a GOP presidential ticket — though not in 2012.
*John Kasich/Rick Scott: The freshmen governors of Florida and Ohio respectively have not been the most popular figures in their states but the rocky first couple of years in office made them heroes to many within the Republican base nationally. They also represent two of the most crucial swing states in November. Kasich’s selection is a message to Ohio voters that Romney’s campaign will be making a hard pitch for their support. And Scott’s selection — like the choice of Florida to host the convention — underscores the importance of the Sunshine State.
*Condoleezza Rice: She won’t be Romney’s running mate, but the former Bush Administration secretary of state will still play a significant role at the convention. Even though she served an unpopular president during an unpopular war, Rice remained popular as the nation’s chief diplomat. She appeals to moderates, has not served in elective office before, and is African American. Independent voters unsure about Romney’s foreign policy credentials might be swayed by Rice’s prominence at the convention.
*Susana Martinez: Martinez is a popular Hispanic Republican who is succeeding in a state, New Mexico, that is heavily Democratic. With a fast-growing Hispanic population in the Sun Belt and the west, Republicans are eager to highlight popular Latino officials and reach out to new Hispanic voters. That’s what they hope to accomplish by giving Martinez the opportunity to speak.
*Mike Huckabee: Huckabee’s plain-spoken style and brand of economic populism have helped him build a large fan base across the country. As Romney is often charged with not being the best communicator, Huckabee’s conversational style will give the presumptive GOP nominee a boost in the personality department.
*John McCain: McCain is not running for president this cycle, but the Arizona senator is still a highly respected figure in the GOP. His military service and his foreign policy credentials will lend Romney some experience points in areas where Democrats will say the former Massachusetts governor falls short.