TAMPA — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among seven headline speakers announced today for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
The first look at featured speakers also includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.
The keynote speaker and others will be named closer to the Aug. 27-30 event, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said in announcing the headliners, whom he called "some of our party's brightest stars, who have governed and led effectively and admirably in their respective roles."
"Ours will be a world-class convention, worthy of the next president of the United States, and these speakers — and those that will be announced later — will help make it a truly memorable and momentous event," Priebus said.
The RNC did not say what day or time any of the headliners would appear at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will officially become the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
Romney has not named his vice presidential running mate, though that person will get a prime-time speaking slot. Noticeably absent from the headliner list are several VP contenders: former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The VP decision is expected any time now, perhaps as soon as this week when Romney kicks off a multistate bus tour. He'll hit Florida next Monday, with expected stops in Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami.
In comments released through the RNC, each of the seven headliners sought to frame the contrast between Romney and President Barack Obama.
"The Republican National Convention comes at a critical time for determining America's future," Scott said. "Mitt Romney knows that it is the hard-working people of America who build businesses and create jobs — not the government. We share that same belief here in Florida where we continue our progress in helping to create jobs by moving government out of the way of our businesses."
Scott's inclusion on the rostrum will be his most public role yet in the campaign to elect Romney.
Scott told the Tampa Bay Times in May he hoped to give a prime-time speech at the convention, later saying he merely wanted "to be helpful in whatever they ask me to do." But Scott, who had a 36 percent approval rating in a Quinnipiac poll released last week, has not appeared with Romney during campaign stops in Florida, even though Florida is a must-win state for the Republican.
Democrats want to tie Scott and Romney together in the minds of Florida voters. In an appearance Sunday on Bay News 9's Political Connections, state Democratic Party executive director Scott Arceneaux called Scott "the most unpopular governor in the country."
"He lacks any political skills, and that's the Republicans saying that, not me," Arceneaux said. "We're certainly going to make an issue of him. And we think the fact that people just don't like him, that'll help really define the Republican brand in Florida by Rick Scott. If you don't like what Rick Scott's doing in Tallahassee, which we don't think people do, if you don't like the Republican governor, you're not going to like Mitt Romney."
With the headliners announced today, the GOP offers a roster of speakers balanced between men and women, with someone for everyone, including a best-selling author and television host with appeal to evangelical voters (Huckabee) and the nation's first female Hispanic governor (Martinez).
"Americans want to work," said Martinez, the first woman to serve as New Mexico's governor. "They want to build their businesses, compete and succeed in order to create more jobs and a secure future for their families. Mitt Romney knows that is the formula for our economic growth — not more government roadblocks."
Huckabee said "this election provides the most stark contrast of political platforms in American history." Instead of recovery and new jobs, he said, the nation has "seen the longest period of record unemployment since the Great Depression."
Like Scott, Kasich, a former House Budget Committee chairman, governs a critical swing state.
"This election comes down to one thing — jobs," he said. "In Ohio, we know what that means. It means we need a leader who believes in American innovation, American ingenuity and the can-do American spirit that embodies our country. That leader is Mitt Romney."
Haley, who at 40 is the nation's youngest sitting governor, said the futures of "our children and our grandchildren are at stake."
"While Americans work to build their businesses and create jobs, leaders of the Democratic Party have spent more than three years raising taxes, increasing spending and taking away our health care choices," she said.
Rice and McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee now serving his fifth term as a U.S. senator from Arizona, reflect what convention CEO William Harris described as "our proud tradition of protecting America's interests around the world."
Rice, once a rumored VP contender herself, said Americans want leaders in Washington "to advance the belief that free markets and free people are the cornerstones to our country's future."
McCain said Romney, like former President Ronald Reagan, believes "America has a unique and indispensable leadership role to promote security and prosperity around the world."
Also absent from this first list of speakers is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who last month was the subject of a flurry of will-he-give-the-keynote news stories. Christie initially told NBC News he hadn't been invited, and a day later said any announcements about RNC speakers would come from the Romney campaign.
"When they announce it," Christie told reporters, "then you'll know and I'll know."
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected], (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.