Who you won’t see on stage at the Republican National Convention

August 29, 2012

TAMPA -- The Republican Party is increasingly reliant on the votes of white men and Southerners.

Despite losing in the 2008 presidential race, Republicans took 54 percent of the Southern vote and 57 percent of white men, and in recent elections, these have been their most reliable demographics.

But if you’ve been watching the Republican National Convention this week, you’ll notice that old Southern twang is mysteriously absent from the stage.

Much has been written about the women, African-Americans and Latinos who have taken the stage for the GOP here this week. Republicans have sought to feature the increasing diversity in their electoral ranks, despite the fact that white men and the South still dominate the party and its voting base.


But more telling: Despite the convention being held in the South, the Southern white man is playing a bit role.

In fact, most of the Southerners speaking are big names that pretty much had to be invited: Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, former vice presidential hopeful and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), and former Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan, a Kentuckian who now heads up the party’s credentials committee.

(McDonnell and Gingrich, notably, don’t register as your typical Southerners; McDonnell is from northern Virginia while Gingrich lives there -- and northern Virginia is about as Southern as Connecticut.)

Republicans also had little choice but to invite tea party favorite Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose father’s (Ron Paul) supporters caused a ruckus Tuesday at the convention over party rules.  And, Rand Paul is far more identified as a national figure than a regional one.

Set those few speakers aside and Republicans have chosen to feature only two lesser-known white men from the South: Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin. This despite the fact that the electoral ranks in nearby Southern states are dominated by white Republican men.

White Republican men govern in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, but none are on the agenda, and neither is former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a former party chairman and current GOP graybeard. The two Southern GOP governors who are minorities, though – South Carolina’s Nikki Haley and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal – were both invited to speak. (Haley addressed the convention on Tuesday while Jindal was forced to cancel as a hurricane bore down on his state.)

Similarly, there are many Republican senators populating the South but none are speaking. And rising-star GOP candidates like Arkansas war veteran Tom Cotton are also absent, despite the fact the GOP is featuring the likes of Utah congressional hopeful Mia Love, an African-American, and Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz, a Cuban-American.

This is, just in case you were wondering, no accident. As much as Republicans want to be seen as inclusive of women and minorities, it’s also important for them not to appear too Southern, too white, or too male. Having speakers who are all three doesn't help sell that message.

Demographically, white voters, men and southerners remain the party's base of support, but it’s hardly sufficient for victory nationally. And voters in other areas of the country need to be made to feel that the GOP isn’t just the party of Southern white men -- especially since history shows us that Northerners are reticent to vote for Southerners.

Which is why the Southern white man is largely absent from the proceedings this week.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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