Santorum's speech at Texas GOP convention won't be public

Posted Wednesday, May. 16, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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State party conventions

Republican Party, June 7-9 in Fort Worth

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Democratic Party, June 8-9 in Houston

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FORT WORTH -- Perhaps the biggest name featured at the Texas Republican Party's convention next month -- former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum -- will give a speech that is off-limits to the media and the public.

Santorum is the main attraction at the June 8 Gala Banquet, a private party fundraiser at the convention, that at least for now will be reserved for delegates, alternates and those who buy tickets to the event at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

"There has never been media availability at the state party's premier banquet," said Chris Elam, the state party's communications director.

Elam said party officials are talking to speakers, including Santorum, if they would like to make themselves available to the media. The former Pennsylvania senator campaigned hard in Texas but suspended his campaign in April.

Reporters have been allowed in the past to cover convention-related gatherings that featured high-profile speakers, such as Mitt Romney during a convention banquet at the 2008 state GOP convention in Houston.

Santorum's staff did not respond to an inquiry by the Star-Telegram about media availability at the Fort Worth convention.

Political observers note that state party conventions -- this Republican gathering could draw up to 9,000 delegates and 9,000 alternates to Fort Worth next month -- generally serve as a rallying point for the party's most faithful members.

The Texas Republican Party's convention is believed to be the largest GOP gathering in the country.

"I think a state convention's purpose is to raise the party profile, so I would think the more media coverage the better," said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. "But the Republican convention has always attracted a more conservative part of the base.

"And it's also been in the last several years that a number of prominent Republicans -- first Rick Perry ... and now David Dewhurst -- have run for positions by openly ignoring the media ... and that has played well with the Republican base."

At national party conventions, officials generally work hard to make them media-friendly because "they know the world is watching," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

And while state political conventions are clearly different and are not broadcast as widely, "it is unusual to act like you are embarrassed by your keynote speaker and therefore don't want media records of his comments," Jillson said.

If the media is blocked because of space limitations, Jillson said it's common to create a "pool" of print and TV reporters who share information gathered during the event.

"This means the Texas Republican Party has concluded ... that it benefits by excluding the media," Jillson said. "The Republican Party is saying they want to avoid any possibility that Santorum says anything that upsets the apple cart and causes a media story that is embarrassing to them."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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