WASHINGTON – A trio of female firsts and three former GOP presidential contenders were among the first speakers disclosed Monday for the Republican National Convention at the end of the month in Tampa, Fla.
The 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 before Mitt Romney accepts the 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.
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 country's first female Hispanic governor.
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. McCain outlasted 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 to speak at the convention along with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, whose state is playing host. 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 a statement. "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 gain national prominence and — four years later — the White House.
When someone is announced as a speaker — keynote or otherwise — it could indicate that Romney has decided against that person as a running mate.
Martinez nodded to that dynamic.
"The veep rumor is over. I've said it over and over and over and over, I don't have any interest in being the vice president," she said.
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 and her husband will deploy to Afghanistan next year. She probably will have a strong message for military families, and 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 served President George W. Bush as national security adviser and as 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 Republican conservatives 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 in 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. Florida's Gov. Scott will address the convention, customary when the incumbent governor's party hosts the convention.
Democrats have started rolling out their convention schedule. Marking a first for Hispanics, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will deliver the high-profile, prime-time keynote address on the convention's opening night, Sept. 4, in Charlotte, N.C. First lady Michelle Obama will also address convention delegates that night.
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.
Associated Press writer Jeri Clausing in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this report.