FORT WORTH -- The rise of the Tea Party, with activists from a wide range of economic backgrounds, is changing the face of the GOP and making it less dominated by so-called country club Republicans.But delegates at the state Republican convention acknowledge that they still don't fully reflect the diversity of Texas, which is now one of four majority-minority states."I see primarily white Anglo-Saxon Protestants," replied a Tarrant County delegate named Dan Blumberg when asked to describe the crowd at the Fort Worth Convention Center on Friday.But Blumberg, 52, an Arlington attorney, said the party has made impressive strides."I think Republicans have gotten a bad rap," he said. "But we do need to remember that as the dominant political force in Texas, we must reach out and embrace Hispanics and African-Americans -- not just white Protestants. And [gay] Log Cabin Republicans, too."Blumberg, who is Jewish, recalled a period in the 1980s when fellow Republicans would try to convert his wife and him to Christianity at party events.That, he told a reporter, no longer happens. As further proof, he noted that Thursday's opening benediction was markedly ecumenical, with no mention of Jesus Christ.However, a few hours later, a Houston delegate, bail bondsman Felix "Michael" Lubosh, was called up to say a prayer at the start of a Senate District 7 caucus, which he then blessed "in Jesus' name." When told that Hindus, Muslims and Jews might be at the convention, Lubosh said they were free to worship as they wish.Many delegates like Tarrant County Tea Party activist Alice Linahan insist that there's no diversity problem in the Texas GOP, noting that former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, a Hispanic, is opposing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican primary runoff for U.S. Senate.Linahan said she's more aware of the class divide between "country club" Republicans, who she said support Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, and Tea Party supporters, who back Cruz and Rep. Bryan Hughes, who plans to challenge Straus for the speakership.Dewhurst on diversitySpeaking to reporters, Dewhurst insisted Friday that Texas Republicans are more diverse than the image presented by the convention."You can't judge the party by the 12,000 people that are here right now because we didn't go through a delegate selection process, we didn't have precinct meetings," Dewhurst said, referring to the caucus method of choosing delegates. "I don't think you can judge the growth and diversity in the Republican Party just by looking at this particular convention."The lieutenant governor said that he has made numerous efforts to appeal to the state's racial and ethnic groups, noting that he speaks Spanish, has gone on Hispanic-oriented radio stations and has visited many black churches.Immigration remains an issue that has hampered the Republican Party's appeal to Hispanics, including many conservative Hispanics who might otherwise switch allegiance from the Democrats.But when asked whether he supported a Hispanic Republican group's call at the convention for a new guest worker program to ease the immigration issue, Dewhurst replied: "First we must secure the borders."Juan Hernandez, a prominent Fort Worth Republican with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship, believes that immigration reform and border problems are separate issues. He noted that a party committee passed a platform position urging "comprehensive" immigration reform.The academic turned international political consultant stressed that he was speaking personally, and not on behalf Hispanic Republicans of Texas, which he co-founded with Fort Worth's George P. Bush, the nephew of President George W. Bush. The group recruits, trains and raises funds for aspiring Hispanic Republican politicians. A year and a half ago, it helped get five elected to the Texas Legislature, he said. "Up from zero."A Houston-based group called Texas Federation for Republican Outreach has been working the ground since the early 1990s, trying to encourage African-Americans to join the GOP.'Closeted' black RepublicansAmong the relatively few black delegates, Eugene Ralph of Dallas was continuously greeted with warm slaps on the back -- and congratulated for sporting a T-shirt that, on the back, depicted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and declared that the slain civil-rights leader was a Republican.Such a claim has been raised during political campaigns in recent years, although King's family says he was not a Republican and his papers, published by the University of California, Berkeley, contain a letter in which he said he refrained from endorsements but voted Democrat. King attacked both Democratic "Dixiecrats" and "reactionary" northern Republicans for blocking civil rights reforms.Ralph, 50, who sells dietary supplements online and owns rental property, blamed the low level of Republican affiliation among blacks on "misinformation that circulates in the community."A Hurricane Katrina evacuee from New Orleans, Ralph said his wife, Lillie, had "recruited" him 18 years ago and that he has similarly won over other African-Americans.In addition, he has discovered "closeted" black Republicans, including some in his own family -- "although they keep it quiet."Nonetheless, the couple remains a distinct minority among relatives."Thanksgiving dinners are still uncomfortable," Lillie Ralph said.Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718Twitter: @startelegram
10 a.m. general session: Remarks from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn.
2 p.m. general session: Remarks from Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, House Speaker Joe Straus and various state legislators.
6 p.m. gala fundraiser: Speeches by Cornyn, former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.