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Spotlight speech at Texas GOP convention won't be public


The following ran in the May 15, 2012, edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Political Scientist Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.

May 18, 2012

By Anna M. Tinsley

FORT WORTH - A highlight of the state Republican Party's convention this summer - the featured and highly-promoted speech by former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum - will be off-limits to the media.

The June 8 event at the Fort Worth Convention Center instead will be reserved for delegates, alternates and those who buy tickets to the Gala Banquet, a private party fundraiser.

"There has never been media availability at the state party's premiere banquet," said Chris Elam, communications director for the Republican Party of Texas.

Elam said party officials are talking to various speakers including Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who campaigned hard in Texas but suspended his presidential campaign in April, about any media availabilities they would like to hold. Reporters have covered gatherings in the past that featured high-profile speakers - such as Mitt Romney's speech during a convention banquet at the 2008 state GOP convention in Houston - but none in recent history that were labeled the Gala Banquet.

Santorum's staff did not respond to an inquiry by the Star-Telegram about whether he would provide any media availability at the Texas convention....

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 clearly are different, and are not broadcast on the same type of world stage, "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 serve as the eyes and ears for all the media and share information gathered during the event with other interested media.

"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."

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