TAMPA — With Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the history books, and a three-day meeting of Democrats in Charlotte only days away, one bankable fact is clear.
The modern convention – at least the part you see on television — is less about what a political party is, and more about who it needs.
As a result, there were many dogs that didn’t bark at the just-ended Republican National Convention.
Same-sex marriage was never disparaged, except in the vaguest terms. Illegal immigration received only a rare mention. When it did surface, the word “illegal” had disappeared. The tea party – the most important political movement of this young century – didn’t exist in Tampa. At least, not by name, and not on television.
The edges were smoothed on anything that might offend skittish independents needed if Romney is to win in November.
But the biggest dog that didn’t bark in Tampa – perhaps “howl” is the better word – was the Southern white male. Of the dozens and dozens of personalities that populated an Isaac-shortened roster of speakers, only a handful came from the GOP’s most reliable and dominant voter base.
Ted Cruz, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from Texas, was part of the non-stop parade of Hispanics on the stage.
Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, both U.S. senators from Kentucky, could be dismissed as mere border-state figures. To cite former Gov. Jeb Bush is to reignite the debate over whether Florida truly qualifies as part of the South.
And before you point to that Confederate veteran, the outlaw Josey Wales, remember that Clint Eastwood was once mayor of Carmel, Calif.
No, the only white males from traditional Southern states on the RNC’s prime-time stage were former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Attorney General Sam Olens, former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich, and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
That’s actually less than meets the eye. Olens, Gingrich and McDonnell were required to share their podiums with women.
(This was particularly important for McDonnell, who this year introduced legislation to require some women seeking an abortion to obtain a transvaginal ultrasound. A less stringent version ultimately passed.)
“That’s bizarre,” conceded delegate and state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, addressing the lack of people who look like him who were put before TV cameras. He quickly elaborated that it bespeaks a successful future for the GOP – despite the fact that, according to one study, only 2 percent of the 2,286 delegates to the convention were African-American.
“The strongest message out of this whole deal is the strength of our farm team. No pun intended,” he said. Black pointed to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Alabama Democratic congressman Arturo Davis, and Mia Love, an African-American candidate for Congress from Utah.
“I celebrate it as a great way to depict the strength of the party. I don’t celebrate it as a smart move,” Black said.
And yet it was that, too.
“[Romney strategists] are more concerned about their swing states now, and they should be. I don’t feel snubbed,” said state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, a convention guest.
Might there be other reasons for avoiding Southern men? Probably.
“It’s who endorsed who. And most of the folks in the South went with Newt,” said state Sen. Barry Loudermilk of Cassville. Olens, he pointed out, was the most prominent statewide elected official in Georgia to step out front for Romney.
But Loudermilk also agreed that the presidential contest is essentially over in the South.
In an interview this week, GOP strategist Ralph Reed said much the same thing – though on a slightly different topic. The Tampa convention became the place where Romney finally felt comfortable enough to discuss his Mormon faith.
Reed maintains that anti-Mormon bigotry is a bigger problem among liberals. The founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition admits that it exists among conservatives, too, but says that this no longer matters.
“If you’ve got a grandma sitting in the third row of an independent Baptist, white sideboard church who can’t bring herself to vote for a Mormon because she believes it’s a heresy, she’s more than likely in north Georgia, upstate South Carolina or eastern Tennessee,” Reed said. “And we don’t need her.”
Similarly, Republican support from Southern men is presumed. The race has moved elsewhere.
Democrats are no different. They need to reach across from the other side of the chasm in order to re-elect President Barack Obama.
Consider some of the speakers scheduled to appear this week: former President Bill Clinton, Georgetown law school graduate Sandra Fluke, Carolyn Kennedy, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, and Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts candidate for U.S. Senate. An abundance of white faces will speak for a party whose base is largely African-American.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis will address the convention, but Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has become a semi-regular surrogate for Obama on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” currently has no televised speaking role in Charlotte.
The 2012 presidential contest isn’t about who is already in your corner. It’s about who isn’t.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider