WASHINGTON – A trio of female firsts and three former GOP presidential contenders are among the first speakers disclosed for August's Republican National Convention.
The GOP convention schedule is packed with high-profile names to fire up divergent wings of the Republican Party, from social conservatives to fiscal hawks. They will speak ahead of Mitt Romney's formal acceptance of his party's presidential nomination.
Convention leaders were not ready to announce the keynote speaker, a prime speaking slot that has the potential to catapult a rising member of the party to national prominence.
The schedule's outlines were first reported by The Tampa Bay Times late Sunday and were confirmed to The Associated Press by Republican officials with direct knowledge of the plan. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because convention officials had not yet announced the schedule.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the first female governors of their states, are among party leaders slated to address the gathering that begins Aug. 27. Martinez has the additional distinction of being the first female Hispanic governor in the country.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the first black female to hold that job, is also scheduled to speak.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona was set to speak, as well as a one-time rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The two, along with Romney, vied for the 2008 presidential nomination, with McCain outlasting both Romney and the former Baptist pastor in the primary campaign.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who briefly ran for the GOP nomination in 2000, also was set to speak at the convention, as was Florida Gov. Rick Scott, whose state is host to the event. Both are tea party favorites and are set to speak to fiscal issues many Republicans hold dear.
"They are some of our party's brightest stars, who have governed and led effectively and admirably in their respective roles," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in prepared remarks. "These speakers — and those that will be announced later — will help make it a truly memorable and momentous event."
Republicans are holding back on announcing other speakers, including the keynote speaker.
In 2004, a little-known state senator from Illinois named Barack Obama used his turn at the Democratic National Convention in Boston to catapult to national prominence and — four years later — the White House.
When someone is announced as keynote speaker that could indicate that Romney has decided against that person as a running mate.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin are both big names in the party believed to be among those Romney is weighing for the vice presidential slot or for the keynote address. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio also were noticeably absent from the slate of announced speakers and may be contenders for running mate.
If passed over for the vice presidential pick, there is a very good chance they would earn speaking slots — if not the keynote.
The speakers already announced suggest where Romney is looking to make progress as voters start to pay attention to the fall campaign.
The all-important female vote clearly is a priority — evidenced by the choices of Haley, Martinez and Rice. Polls through the spring showed President Barack Obama outpacing Romney among female voters, although strategists from both parties say that gender gap is narrowing. A strong play for female voters at the convention should be expected.
Haley, who backed Romney in her state's first-in-the-South primary, is the youngest sitting governor in the country and her husband will deploy to Afghanistan next year. So she will probably have a strong message for military families, as well as for younger voters.
Martinez, who made history in her state and nationally when she was elected, could appeal to Hispanic women, a sizable demographic that broke for Obama four years ago. She can also address voters who feel securing the nation's Southern border is a top concern.
And Rice, an academic who was President George W. Bush's national security adviser and later secretary of state, could appeal to working women and those who put the United States' security as a top concern.
Some suggested she would be an excellent choice for Romney's running mate but conservatives in the party led a revolt, citing her support for abortion rights.
Romney, with limited foreign policy credentials, needs leading foreign policy figures like Rice to vouch for him.
Another prominent voice on foreign policy, McCain, will speak up for Romney.
The Senate veteran, who was a prisoner of war during Vietnam, remains among his party's most visible figures. His dislike for Romney has apparently faded since their primary fight four years ago.
"In these challenging times, America needs Mitt Romney in the White House," McCain said in a statement Republicans planned to release Monday. "The Republican National Convention in Tampa will help give us the momentum to get him there."
Another GOP rival from 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, also will try to help Romney.
Huckabee's appeal among social conservatives has not shrunk and his backing is likely to help evangelicals who have been slow to warm to Romney and his Mormon faith.
Among tea party supporters, Romney will get a boost from Kasich. His home state of Ohio is a linchpin of Romney's strategy and no Republican has won the White House without carrying the perennial Midwestern battleground. No Democrat has won without winning Ohio since John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960.
Florida is another key state for both campaigns' path to the White House. Florida's Gov. Scott will address the convention, customary when the incumbent governor's party hosts the convention.
Democrats have rolled out their own convention schedule in recent weeks. Marking a first for Hispanics, the Democrats chose the mayor of San Antonio to deliver the keynote address in Charlotte, N.C.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will deliver the high-profile, prime-time address on the convention's opening night, Sept. 4. First lady Michelle Obama will also address convention delegates that night.
Democrats also announced that former President Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, the party's popular Senate candidate in Massachusetts, will have prime speaking roles at the convention on Sept. 5.
Vice President Joe Biden and Obama will speak in prime time on Thursday, Sept. 6, the convention's final night.