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Who will be the next Sarah Palin at the GOP convention?

August 27, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


Sarah Palin, the star of the 2008 Republican convention, will be in Arizona this week. So who will take her place in Tampa as the breakout star of the GOP’s big show?

Right now, it looks like the big attention-getter in Tampa could be Hurricane Isaac. But there are at least five young Republican stars who could grab the spotlight.

Palin confirmed on Saturday she’ll be in Arizona and some other locations campaigning for congressional candidates.

Just four years ago, Palin was the breakout star in Minneapolis with her surprise nomination by John McCain followed by a powerful speech.

Today, Palin isn’t in Tampa after she wasn’t selected as a speaker by nominee Mitt Romney’s team. But the former Alaska governor remains a force, talking more about the potential need for a third party in an interview on Fox News over the weekend.

Palin is also talking up her hand-picked Senate candidate in Missouri, Sarah Steelman, to take on Todd Akin for a second time, after Akin’s comments on rape created a national firestorm.

During the vice presidential selection process, at least four names kept popping up as new national faces of the Republican party. A Tea Party-backed senate candidate also emerged as a potential star.

Historically, national political conventions can make or break the long-term political hopes of potential candidates.

The term “dark horse” got its name in political lore at the 1844 Democratic convention when James Knox Polk, who had just lost two gubernatorial races in Tennessee, walked away with the presidential nomination, after he benefitted from a deadlocked convention. (Polk had shown up to try for a spot as vice president.)

At the 1956 Democratic party, the star was a young senator who lost a battle for the vice presidential nomination.

John F. Kennedy lost in an open ballot on the floor to Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, but the convention appearance was Kennedy’s springboard to the 1960 presidential nomination.

Ronald Reagan spoke at seven GOP conventions, and made a strong national impression in 1968 when he asked delegates to approve Richard Nixon’s nomination. Also, his 1976 speech was seen as a springboard to a 1980 election victory.

In 2004 Barack Obama, then a little-known Illinois state senator, stole the show at the Democratic convention as the keynote speaker.

Five convention speakers to watch

Because the GOP convention is now a three-day affair due to weather in Tampa, expect a lot of speakers to be jammed into the proceedings.

Paul Ryan, 42, the presumptive GOP vice presidential nominee, will get the most attention. Critics and supporters have started with comparisons of Ryan and Palin. Ryan is an experienced public speaker who has been on the campaign trail honing his skills.

Chris Christie, 49, the colorful New Jersey governor, is the keynote speaker, and he’s said he won’t be holding anything back on the podium. Christie is also a close Romney associate widely talked about as a 2016 presidential contender if Romney loses.

Marco Rubio, 41, is also another high-profile speaker with ties to Romney. The senator from Florida will likely get a primetime spot in his home state. Rubio is also another name already tossed into the 2016 presidential race.

Two lesser-known names could steal the show, depending on when—or if--they speak.

Ted Cruz, 41, a charismatic Tea Party favorite who is also the favorite in the senate race in Texas, was to speak on Monday night.

And Kelly Ayotte, 44, the fast-rising senator from New Hampshire, was set to speak early Tuesday night, but that is now up in the air.

Among the people from Monday night who were rescheduled are Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, John Boehner, and Jeb Bush.

Cruz and Ayotte were moved to slots on Wednesday night.

And Condoleezza Rice keeps her primetime spot on Wednesday night in the last hour of the convention that night.

A wild card at the convention is Wednesday, the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The National Weather Service now has New Orleans under a Hurricane Watch. The storm could barrel into the same region devastated by Katrina.

In 2012, the GOP cancelled the day of its convention when Hurricane Gustav was in the Gulf.

For now, Paul Ryan is the featured speaker on Wednesday night.

Isaac certainly has the potential to rain on the parade of the next young GOP star who wants to grab Sarah Palin’s spotlight from 2008.

Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

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