Despite diversity brag, few black delegates at the 2012 Republican convention

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People listen as Ann Romney wife of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaks on stage during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

People listen as Ann Romney wife of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaks on stage during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

How much racial diversity is there at this year’s Republican National Convention? It’s hard to say, if you ask some party officials.

Organizers of the GOP’s nominating convention in Tampa have boasted that year’s confab is “the most ethnically diverse GOP convention ever,” including speakers and delegates.

Indeed, a rainbow of presenters are taking the stage during the three-day event, including Democratic convert Artur Davis, Utah congressional hopeful Mia Love, who spoke on Tuesday night, and former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, set for her star turn Wednesday night during prime-time.

On Wednesday, a local law firm hosted an “RNC 2012 Visions Luncheon – Celebrating Black Diversity in the GOP,” featuring VIP guests like Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Tea Party congressman Allen West, RNC co-chair Sharon Day and Tara Wall, the African-American communications advisor to Mitt Romney.

But try to quantify that diversity in terms of the number of delegates on the convention floor, and organizers have few answers.

“GOP delegates don’t self-identify demographic information, so we don’t know how many African-American delegates there are,” a convention spokesman told theGrio. Wall concurred.

But convention communications staff circulated a list of black surrogates available to the media, meaning they had identified at least some of them. Of those on the list, four are confirmed delegates: South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott, Texas State Rep. Stefanie Carter, and Georgia delegates Vivian Childs and Ashley Bell.

The annual quest to spot black delegates — including by network television cameras — has become a point of humor, with comedic writer Baratunde Thurston creating a Twitter hashtag, #negrospotting. But the question of whether the GOP can increase its diversity is serious business to GOP political strategists, who understand that an overwhelmingly white party faces electoral doom in an increasingly diverse country.

On Tuesday, theGrio spoke to three black RNC delegates from California, two from Texas, and one apiece from Michigan, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and New York, who among them identified 28 African-American delegates, including themselves.

The reticence may have something to do with a history of declining diversity at the GOP nominating conventions in recent years.

After peaking at 167 in 2004, when George W. Bush accepted his party’s nomination for a second term as president, the number of black delegates dropped to just 36 in 2008 — 1.5 percent of the delegates who nominated John McCain. That was a 78.4 percent decline from 2004, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which has tabulated the number of black delegates to both party’s nominating conventions every presidential election cycle since 1974.

According to the Joint Center’s senior political analyst, David Bositis, the year with the most African-American delegates to the GOP convention was 1912, when William Howard Taft became the Republican nominee with the help of black Republicans in the then-solidly Democratic southern states (“basically back then, the only Republicans in the south were black,” Bositis said). And the lowest ebb was in 1964, when just 1 percent of the delegates to the convention that nominated conservative firebrand Barry Goldwater for president were black.

“After that the party changed the rules so that states that were going to vote Republican got more delegates than states that wouldn’t,” Bositis said, and the number of black delegates declined, as states in the Midwest and West got the most delegates.