Not your father’s GOP

Published 10:36 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

The phrase “Grand Old Party” was first used to refer to the Republican Party in 1876. Recent Republican superstars certainly would qualify to serve in a party with such a nickname. Current presidential nominee John McCain is 72. The late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond served until he was 101. Even Ronald Reagan, the poster child and hero to the Republicans, was 69 when he was elected to his first term.

McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was made for a variety of reasons — to connect with the Republican Party’s conservative base, to appeal to Hillary Clinton voters snubbed by the fact Clinton was not even considered to be the Democratic running mate.

But Palin is much more than a token selected to appeal to a specific voting block. She is the face of the new Republican Party, a face that is as varied as a patchwork quilt and could go a long way to breaking the GOP’s reputation as the party of “rich, old, white men.”

The 44-year-old Palin is a success story that a Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t have narrated better. She has gone from a high school basketball standout and beauty pageant winner to a possible future president. But hers is not the only rags-to-riches story that infuses the GOP.

Louisiana Gov. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal is just 36 years old, but has already served as a U.S. Congressman, principal policy advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and as secretary of the Lousiana Department of Health and Hospitals (a position he held at just 25 years old).

In 2007, Jindal was elected governor of Louisiana, carrying 54 percent of the popular vote in a four-way race. Already considered a “rising star” in the Republican Party, Jindal’s credentials will only expand following the efficient evacuation of his home state as Hurricane Gustav approached. Jindal’s predecessor, Democrat Kathleen Blanco, was reviled for her poor management skills during a similar crisis when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. As the son of Indian immigrants and a Hindu who converted to Christianity, Jindal’s life story should resonate with Republican voters in the future and was a major reason he was considered on the “short list” to be McCain’s running mate.

Another name to keep an eye on is Meg Whitman, who serves as a co-chairman for McCain’s campaign team and is the ex-CEO of eBay. Whitman, 52, was a dark horse to be McCain’s running mate and may be planning a run for California governor in 2010.

For a party that is so desperate to throw off its reputation as being unfriendly to minorities and females, up-and-coming stars like Jindal and Whitman have the potential to breathe new life into the GOP. Although the Republicans still have a ways to go to match their Democratic counterparts in terms of diversity in high-ranking positions, having headlines featuring people like Palin, Jindal and Whitman certainly can’t hurt.