RNC In Full Swing, Little Diversity Among Delegates
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
I'm Deborah Amos and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Michel Martin is in St. Paul, Minnesota this week to cover the Republican National Convention. Coming up, a newsmaker interview with Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives on the legacy and the future of the GOP. That's in a bit. But first...
President GEORGE W. BUSH: We need a president who understands the lessons of September the 11th, 2001. That to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain.
(Soundbite of applause)
AMOS: The Republicans are back to a more traditional convention after that low key start on Monday because of Hurricane Gustav. Tell Me More host Michel Martin is in St. Paul, Minnesota. She's covering the Republican National Convention and she joins us now for an update. Hi Michel.
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Hello again, Deborah.
AMOS: Hi. Everything seemed to get back to normal. And what was the mood like and what did the convention look like?
MARTIN: Well, it's just as you said. When we talked yesterday, we talked about how low key it was the first night. There were no souvenirs to be found, no signs on the floor. Last night, a much more typical convention experience. The goofy outfits made their appearance - started to make their appearance. The buttons, some of the edgier signs and buttons, there were long lines to get in. Lots of guests and there was much more of that a celebratory air. But in terms on what it look like, I couldn't help but notice. Having covered a number of these, the diversity that we have actually come to see at Republican conventions as well as Democratic conventions really wasn't there. Convention goers are two to one male and the level of African-American representation, according to the joint center for political and economic studies, is the lowest it's been in 40 years. There are only 36 African-American delegates. That's 1.5 percent of the total. That's a huge drop from 2004 when almost seven percent of the delegates were African-American.
AMOS: Well, President Bush was introduced to the convention by the first lady, but he showed up via satellite from the Oval Office. He gave a support to nominee Senator John McCain. So let's listen to what he had to say.
President BUSH: If the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain's resolve to do what is best for his country, you can be sure the angry left never will.
AMOS: The president wasn't there. He wasn't in primetime, I noticed last night. What did the convention planners want out of this speech?
MARTIN: Well, Deborah, if you remember, if the president has a 30 percent approval rating, it's a safe bet that 30 percent was pretty much in that room. But the people who are speaking at the convention have to walk that line between talking to the people in the room and talking to the people out of the room, which is the people that they have to persuade. The president kind of started off the convention by trying to straddle that line between partisanship and statesmanship that the McCain campaign is seeking here. You'll note that one of the highlight speakers of the night was Joe Lieberman, a former vice presidential nominee for the Democrats in 2000, running with Al Gore, and he was the one who was tasked to sort of making the pitch to the undecided. But it was a tricky balancing act and for all the speakers through out the night, were trying to walk that line.
AMOS: Now, we're going to listen to another speaker. Fred Thompson, he's the former Senator of Tennessee. He played the role in firing up the Republican base. So let's listen to what he had to say.
Former Senator FRED THOMPSON (Republican, Tennessee): And my friends, we need a president who doesn't think that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade.
(Soundbite of applause)
AMOS: Of course, he's talking about Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama and he was referring to a statement that he made on abortion rights. Tell us a bit more about that please.
MARTIN: Well, as I think you figured it out, Fred Thompson was your red meat guy. As we were saying earlier, there's this balance between trying to fire up the base and getting people excited about the ticket and not alienating the people out of the room who are not yet convinced. Fred Thompson was your red meat guy such as it is, but he was also very - you know, the rest of his speech was not - it wasn't - I would say it wasn't mean spirited. It was very - it was humorous, but it did have that sort of take the fight to the other side edge that I think that people here expected to hear at some point in the course of the evening.
AMOS: Let's talk a little bit more about Senator Joe Lieberman. How was he received down on the floor?
MARTIN: In a way, it was an interesting job. He had a tough task and I'm not quite sure that he pulled it off. I mean, he - you, know, here's a guy who broke with the Democrats over the war, which he supports. He now calls himself an independent, although he still votes with the Democratic caucus on issues other than the war. He took on a task of trying to appeal to undecided voters. Needless to say, those aren't the people in the room. So in one sense, he kind of sucked some of the energy out of the room. He followed Fred Thompson through the floor. On the other hand, I think a lot of people appreciated his presence. He got a warm welcome, got a lot of applause. It was a difficult assignment that he was given and I'll be curious to see how it was received, particularly out in the television viewing audience, which is really his bigger audience.
AMOS: Thank you very much, Michel. We'll talk to you tomorrow.
MICHELLE: Thank you, Deborah.
AMOS: Tell Me More's host Michel Martin joined us from St. Paul, Minnesota where the Republican National Convention is underway after a pause for Hurricane Gustav.
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