Christie in, Palin out, as RNC speaker strategy comes into focus
By: Rosalind S. Helderman
Sarah Palin is out.
But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul will not appear. But his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, will take the stage.
The full slate of convention speakers for the Republican National Convention in Tampa later this month is now set, and it reveals a careful attempt by the GOP to highlight voices that will excite party loyalists in the campaign hall while excluding those that could turn off independent voters watching on television at home.
The party’s attempt to thread that needle came into focus Tuesday with the announcement that Christie — one of the few party figures who appeals across the broad partisan spectrum — will take on the coveted role of keynote speaker.
Christie’s combative and blunt tone matches up well with the fighting spirit of the GOP’s tea party grass roots. But his more moderate social positions and occasional willingness to use his sharp tongue on his own party have gained him fans among non-traditional Republican voters as well.
In a statement, Christie promised to use his 20-minute address to offer the kind of candid assessment of the race for which he’s known.
“We have an opportunity in Tampa to make clear that if we tell each other the hard truths, tackle the big problems, and make bold choices, we will see America’s comeback,” he said.
The party will also work to elevate figures seen as bright young stars who could help broaden the GOP’s appeal with women and Latinos over those who helped splinter the party through months of this year’s tough Republican primary season.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will introduce presidential candidate Mitt Romney. A pair of female governors — New Mexico’s Susana Martinez and South Carolina’s Nikki Haley — will also speak.
Of Romney’s onetime rivals for the Republican nomination — a colorful cast that includes former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former pizza executive Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) — only former senator Rick Santorum has been asked to speak.
“The agenda of speakers reflect the priorities the campaign has going into the fall,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “If they were to put someone out there who was not helpful, who was off message or a loud mouth, it would do nothing but hurt their efforts.”
He said the Romney team had selected fresh faces — neither former president George W. Bush nor former vice president Richard B. Cheney will speak — who had demonstrated loyalty to the ticket.
“It’s not designed to make people famous. It’s designed to elect Mitt Romney,” he said.
The Christie announcement comes as the campaign settles into a new phase of daily trail combat.
President Obama will continue his three-day swing across Iowa on Tuesday with a new attack against Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), over their opposition to extending tax credits for the wind-energy industry.
Obama is making three appearances Tuesday in Iowa, a state that has emerged as a key battleground this year despite Obama’s strong performance there four years ago. He will appear in Oskaloosa, Marshalltown and Waterloo.
The Republican ticket will spend the day highlighting what the candidates say is Obama’s hostility to traditional energy sources.
Romney will blast Obama for conducting a “war on coal,” in what his campaign was billing as a new policy address. Delivering his remarks deep in the heart of Ohio’s coal country, he will offer Republican alternatives for dealing with energy regulation.
Ryan is echoing that message in Colorado, on his second day of solo campaigning since being named to the Republican ticket. Ryan then travels to Nevada to discuss housing policy in a state hit hard by foreclosures.
Ryan will likely also be looking to avoid the chaotic scene he faced in Iowa on Monday, when his remarks at the Iowa State Fair were repeatedly interrupted by hecklers protesting the budget plan Ryan proposed in Congress that would revamp Medicare.