Republican National Convention
Monday, July 31, 2000

Ky.'s Chao Cabinet contender




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        PHILADELPHIA — It won't take long for Kentucky to wind up at center stage of the Republican National Convention.

        Three Kentuckians, including a husband and wife, were to speak today from the main podium at the First Union Center.

        U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Louisville Republican, was to speak during the afternoon session. Mr. McConnell, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, will talk about Senate races this fall.

        Only political junkies will likely be tuning in on C-SPAN to catch his speech.

        The real action begins during tonight's prime-time session, when Mr. McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, was to speak along with Colin Powell and Laura Bush, wife of soon-to-be GOP nominee George W. Bush.

        Also on the agenda is Sharon Darling of Louisville, president and founder of the National Center for Family Literacy.

        Ms. Chao, a native of Tai wan who came to America at age 8 in 1962, will talk about immigration and civil society.

        Two weeks ago when Ms. Chao was invited to speak, she said Mr. Bush's “message of inclusiveness and outreach to all within our society resonates deeply with every American.”

        Getting American voters to buy the notion that the Republican Party is operating under a big tent where all are welcome is one of the major challenges of this four-day Republican “infomercial.”

        The delegates are, as usual for the Republicans, mostly white and male.

        Last week Mr. Bush hinted that some of his Cabinet prospects would be speaking during the convention. That would include, presumably, Ms. Chao.

        Her story is extraordinary. Her parents met on a refugee trail as they fled China for Taiwan during the 1949 communist uprising. After marrying and starting a family, they came to New York, where Ms. Chao's father built a successful shipping business.

        Part of Elaine Chao's resume: Harvard graduate who worked as an investment banker. Head of the United Way and the Peace Corps. Currently a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a respected Washington think tank.

        “I think a lot of people always assumed that if George W. Bush was elected president, Mitch McConnell would get a Cabinet post,” said Betty Thompson of Shelbyville, a Kentucky GOP official. “But I think Elaine is the one who will be in the Cabinet. She's incredible.”

        If Ms. Chao becomes a member of the Bush Cabinet, Kentucky will have a lot to be proud of. But the party will have to make sure it is equally proud of Ms. Chao's Kentucky connection.

        In the official program Ms. Chao's residence is not listed as Louisville, where she and Mr. McConnell live. It's Washington.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics.

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