PHILADELPHIA – Miles from the glitz, glitter and corporate free-for-all of the Republican National Convention, Maryland resident Alan Keyes was speaking to the party’s true believers.
Keyes, the third-running Republican candidate for president, was at the Union League building in downtown Philadelphia, talking to his people – the National Coalition for Life, an anti-abortion group founded by Phyllis Schlafly.
For him to speak at a sanctioned convention event in Philadelphia this week is “kind of a rare occurrence,” he wryly said.
Despite getting more than 1 million votes in this year’s primary and garnering 21 delegates, and despite his position as a Republican rarity – a black conservative – Keyes has been relegated to an off-screen role in the 2000 Republican National Convention.
Aside from an early birthday party – he turns 50 on Aug. 7 – Keyes spoke to only three of the hundreds of official and unofficial gatherings this week: BAMPAC, a minority political action committee, Schlafly’s anti-abortion group and the conservative Family Research Council.
And the events at which he was featured, were clearly on the “B” list – no corporate sponsorship, and underwhelming food. The luncheon at the Union League, also featuring New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith, was an $85 ham sandwich and pasta salad.
Keyes seems not to notice or not to care about his apparent status as second-class candidate. His crusade continues, and next week he continues campaigning for other candidates around the country.
About his future political plans he said, “My plans don’t matter, I pray every day to find God’s plan.”
He’s proud of his role.
“The moral heart of the party was preserved,” he said.
The loyalty of Keyes’ supporters was also preserved. Many of them remain strongly committed to him personally, if not politically. At the Union League, he is more popular than Schlafly, Smith and a former Miss America combined. Most of his two-plus hours there are spent shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for pictures. Many of the adoring fans tell Keyes that he was their inspiration to vote.
That loyalty is not lost on Keyes. He refused to release his delegates to vote for nominee George W. Bush, as second-place finisher Sen. John McCain did. The reason? He wasn’t given a forum to do so.
Keyes’ little bit of dissension was one of the few ripples at this year’s convention, which Bush’s team worked hard to keep unified, unsuspenseful and positive.
His passion for the causes and his desire for the media attention it caused may be the real reasons Keyes did not release his delegates. Maryland Sen. Christopher McCabe, R-Howard, said, “[Keyes] continues to be a story … you wouldn’t be writing about him if he had released his delegates.”
McCabe also pointed out that Keyes’ supporters are the most passionate and dedicated anti-abortion constituents in the party, and Keyes may not have wanted to send the message to his followers or the party that the anti-abortion cause was no longer important.
The party retained the anti-abortion plank in the platform, but tucked it into a section on family issues, rather than highlighting it as it has in the past.
Keyes continues to trumpet his conservative message as the party conscience, even after two failed presidential campaigns and two failed Senate campaigns. At the Union League, Keyes employed his passion and eloquence to defend his strict constructionist view of the Constitution.
Keyes’ passion, however, has liabilities. Even supporters admit that his views are too narrowly focused and not in the mainstream.
Eileen Coffey, a Keyes Republican from Greenville, S.C., said, “I wish he could be president, but the perception is that he’s too far right for the public.”
McCabe acknowledged that Keyes has attracted a strong national following But he doesn’t address a wide enough range of issues to go any farther. He said he wished Keyes would use his popularity to help the party: “My hope for [Keyes] is that he begin to use his skills and intellect on a broad range of issues.”
There is also sentiment among some Maryland Republicans that Keyes has focused on the national races and ignored the state party.
State Party Chairman Richard Bennett said “[Keyes] has no role in Maryland politics. I know of no Maryland Republican that he interacts with; he hasn’t been on the convention floor to talk with anyone.”