Home | Conventions 2012 | News

For some Republicans, convention could serve as springboard to future

A trio of Republican stars could use high-profile roles at this week’s convention as a springboard to the top of a future GOP presidential ticket. 

While this week is all about nominating and promoting Mitt Romney as the GOP standard-bearer against President Obama, delegates will also eagerly watch a new generation of Republican politicians already favored to lead the party in subsequent campaigns. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) will introduce Romney before he officially accepts the party’s nomination, while Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.) is delivering the convention’s keynote address. 

Both are Republican rock stars with national reputations thought to have ambitions for much higher offices. 

And that’s to say nothing of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has electrified Republican audiences since Romney picked him as his running mate. 

All three would be included high on virtually anyone’s short list of prospective GOP candidates in 2016 or 2020, depending on the outcome of this year’s race. 

Along with a host of other Republicans speaking in Tampa, they will all be auditioning to varying degrees at a convention that marks the biggest opportunity for many to introduce themselves to a national audience.

“A convention speech is an audition for the national stage, and for a politician’s political future,” said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean. “A great speech can have a snowball effect.”

It escapes no one that the last politician to make a massive splash with a convention speech remarks also happens to occupy the White House. 

President Obama was just a state senator when he grabbed eyeballs delivering the keynote of the 2004 Democratic convention. The next time the convention rolled around, he was accepting his party’s nomination.

“They all see that possibility,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who advised Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) during his 2008 run.

But the opportunity to make an impression carries its own challenges as well. It’s possible to stumble at a convention, too, by failing to rally the troops or by making the mistake of trying to upstage the main event.

The goal of the convention is to help Romney win in November, even if many of those on the stage also hope to further their own careers at the same time.

“If a convention speaker wants to make a mark, it’s important to passionately describe the state of our country’s problems, and to show how Mitt Romney would come to the rescue,” Bonjean said. 

Christie, Rubio and Ryan have different jobs at the convention, and different goals. 

Ryan is on the Republican ticket and would be a heartbeat away from the presidency — and Romney’s natural successor — if Romney defeats Obama. Only 42 years old, Ryan has plenty of time to run for president, and the convention and this year’s election will be a huge test for his political future.

The stakes are a bit lower for Christie and Rubio, who were both discussed as possible vice presidential candidates for Romney. At the same time, Tampa and the GOP convention represent a significant opportunity for both men, who emerged as political stars over the last four years. 

A convention speech is hardly a surefire fast lane to future success. 

Former New York Gov. Rudy Giuliani gave the last keynote address at the 2008 GOP convention, and came into 2012 as a political afterthought. And former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s remarks, well-received by the GOP faithful, effectively represented a high-water mark for her national profile.

Ryan, Rubio and Christie aren’t the only Republicans to watch for with an eye on the future. 

Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Nikki Haley of South Carolina are seen as future stars who can offer different perspectives for Republicans with their remarks and fresh faces. 

Two other Republicans seen as potential GOP candidates in the future saw their Monday appearances from the convention stage cancelled because of Tropical Storm Isaac. Many think former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could have been the party's nominee this year if his brother had not left the presidency so recently. 

“If his last name were not Bush, he’d probably be the nominee right now,” said O’Connell.

Freshman Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who also had been scheduled to speak Monday, was to get an opportunity to tout his libertarian-infused brand of politics, echoing the ethos of his father, retiring Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), while building his own identity in the national consciousness.

It’s also possible that delegates could be fired up by a less-known figure with a role at the convention. 

A number of other GOP governors have been handed speaking slots, giving them a chance to build a reputation with voters beyond their own borders. 

With dozens of politicians getting the chance to speak from the convention podium, many have the opportunity to make a splash.

“Somebody could pop out of the woodwork. Somebody could give a Palin-esque speech and the next thing you know we’re spending the next 10 days talking about it,” said O’Connell.