GOP Looks to Send Message of Diversity

Republican convention organizers have crafted a stage lineup aimed at showing a diverse party, giving a spotlight to Education Secretary Rod Paige (search), who is black; Labor Secretary Elaine Chao (search), an Asian American; and minority musical groups.

Surrogates for President Bush also point to an increasing minority presence on the convention floor as more evidence of the party's growing inclusiveness. Seventeen percent of the delegates this year are minorities, compared with 10 percent in 2000, the Republican National Committee (search) has said.

Still, the delegates are primarily white, and more so than the overall U.S. population. According to Census Bureau estimates, about 32 percent of U.S. residents in 2003 had a minority background.

And while 44 percent of the delegates are women, up from 36 percent in 2000, that still trails the general population, which is 51 percent female.

"Everything that's going on at this convention is contrived. It's fairly obvious that was their intention all along," said David Bositis, a political scientist at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank specializing in minority issues.

Not so, Fernando Mateo, the head of a Hispanics Across America, a New York-based advocacy group, who accused critics of not giving enough credit to the Republicans for making inroads with minorities, specifically Latinos. Mateo spoke to the convention on Monday.

"Republicans are giving opportunities where opportunity isn't there. Rather than criticize it, they should learn from it and replicate it," Mateo said.

Republicans and Democrats are fighting tooth-and-nail for every vote in a tight election campaign. Hispanics, especially, have been heavily courted, and the GOP says it's taking historic steps at its convention by holding media briefings in Spanish, for the first time and holding a prime-time "town-hall" meeting on Hispanic issues on Thursday.

Meanwhile, besides Paige, Chao and Mateo, other notable minority speakers include the 2003 Miss America, Erika Harold, who is part black, part Native American and part European; and Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who is the first black in his state's history to win statewide elective office.

"We are very actively involved trying to get black Americans to vote and look at the Republican Party," said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, who is black. He cited campaign efforts to speak to black church congregations and youth groups.

Stage acts at the convention include Latin gospel singer Jaci Velasquez and the Harlem Boys Choir.