The Republican Party has long been portrayed as the party of old, rich white guys. However, as the GOP moves forward in its search for greater diversity, many new leaders are coming forward from backgrounds quite different from usual.
After the 2012 presidential election, where Republicans were soundly defeated in the battle for women, minority and young voters, the Republican National Committee laid out its new “Rising Stars” initiative, which highlights the party’s younger and more diverse candidates and office holders. The GOP believes these leaders can help change the party’s long-standing reputation of being old, white, and wealthy, and bring focus not just to new political faces, but also to the Republican party’s ideas.
Who exactly are these new politicians, why do they matter and will they be able to provide the GOP with a much-needed boost among minorities, women and young people? Crucial questions for the coming years. Let’s take a look:
One of the GOP’s targeted “Rising Stars” is Marilinda Garcia, a 30-year-old state representative from New Hampshire. Garcia, a Hispanic, was first elected at age 23 to the New Hampshire state house and has not looked back since. Some have even considered tapping her as a challenger to Democratic Representative Ann Kuster in the upcoming 2014 midterm elections.
The GOP will rally around Garcia if she does decide to run in 2014, in hope that she wins back a seat lost in 2012. If the GOP is serious about supporting its “Rising Stars,” Garcia will need to be supported by the entire Republican base to win back the seat. If she wins, Republicans strategize that she can help reach a new voting block of northern Hispanic voters — a demographic that has probably never been touched before by a GOP candidate.
Dubbed as the protégé of former Representative J.C. Watts, T.W. Shannon is making his name known in the Oklahoma. As the state’s first black Speaker of the House, Shannon has quickly risen through the ranks of the GOP. Supported by GOPAC, an organization whose mission is to support up-and-coming Republican leaders, this 35-year-old lawmaker will be term-limited out of office in 2018.
However, Shannon will not leave the political realm if he follows his current trajectory. Many predict that Shannon has higher ambitions than the speakership in Oklahoma. Shannon could even become a much-needed face for blacks within the GOP (alongside others, like Mayor Mia Love of Sarasota Springs, Utah, now a candidate for Congress), a position in the party once filled by his mentor, Watts.
Former Miss America Erika Harold could possibly pose a problem for the GOP and its Rising Stars initiative. Harold, a 33-year-old attorney from Illinois, is currently running for election in Illinois’s 13th District. However, another Republican congressman, Rodney Davis, already holds that seat.
Harold claims that the GOP is not helping her enough to become elected. If true, could the GOP’s rejection of Harold look like a rejection of minorities by the Party? The suggestion seems far-fetched, but the media could certainly portray the situation in such a light. If elected, Harold can provide much-needed diversity for Republicans in the Democratic stronghold of Illinois.
George P. Bush
Before you roll your eyes at mention of another Bush in the GOP’s future, take a second and understand who George P. Bush, Land Commissioner candidate from Texas, really is. Bush, a 37-year-old Hispanic attorney, U.S. Navy Reserve Officer and real-estate investor, is a co-founder of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas and national co-chair of Maverick PAC, a national political action committee dedicated to engaging the next generation of Republican voters. Bush is considered a shoe-in candidate for office in Texas.
Yes, he is a Bush, Jeb’s son; therefore, he has connections. His name recognition, Hispanic heritage and young age are all plusses for him as a future leader within the GOP. Many Republicans are hoping he can help keep the Texas red by making inroads with the state’s considerable (38.2 percent in 2012) Hispanic population. If his career plays out like many hope it will, could we possibly see another Bush run for president? No one can rule it out.
All four candidates provide glimmers of much-needed diversity in the Republican party. Going forward, the Rising Stars program will be valuable in the effort to win over new voters as America changes in diversity. As long as candidates like Garcia, Shannon, Harold and Bush are supported by the party, the GOP does have a fighting chance in a new and diverse electorate.
—Russell Dye is a junior studying political science
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