Over the past 10-plus years, the Republican Party has made major strides when it comes to women in high political positions.
In 2004, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was nominated by President George W. Bush to be the second woman, and first African-American woman, to be Secretary of State.
Rice would serve in this role until the end of President Bush’s second term.
As the GOP geared up for a new ticket to take on Democratic nominee Barack Obama in 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate, marking the second time in U.S. history that a woman was nominated for the vice presidency.
Four years later, both are back in the news in a different way as the 2012 election is fast approaching. To reach women voters, the Republicans are likely to align with either Rice as a VP running mate for Mitt Romney, or with Sarah Palin as a featured speaker at the Republican Convention. Each choice would send a different message: The "mildly pro-choice" Rice represents the Republican establishment; Palin represents the hard-right Tea Party. Either way, there would be PR fallout for the party.
Choosing Rice as VP would in effect be a rebranding of the party—at a very late date. And then there is the issue of her lack of experience as a political candidate for office.
“The PR risk is the unknown,” says Jefrey Pollock, founding partner and president of Global Strategy Group. "She’s never fully been vetted and has never run for office. We just don’t how she’d handle the glare of a campaign.”
Pollock also says the communications and strategy team has to be aware of the messages being sent to potential voters—and Rice isn’t in line with those messages.
“Picking Rice doesn’t give Romney anything. He needs a message for the middle class,” Pollock says.
Palin, who has also been rumored as a VP candidate, has yet to receive an invitation to speak at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. This may change if Rice does not get the VP nod, as the issue of mixed messages would be moot. And then again, she may not get a speaker slot even if Rice is not on the ticket.
Pollock says a Palin appearance would be a PR disaster for the GOP.
“There is nothing that the Republican Party wants to do more than forget Sarah Palin," he says. “Her speaking would be like throwing a bone to the competition.”
As a brand, the party's message couldn't be clearer—low taxes and minimal regulation. The question is whether or not it's worth muddying that message and losing brand identity in the quest for a broader base.
Next week: A look at the Democratic Party's media relations tactics.
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