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Hart Tapped To Co-Chair Platform

The Republican National Committee announced Tuesday that it had tapped a two-term House Member from a traditionally Democratic district in western Pennsylvania to co-chair the Republican National Convention’s 2004 Platform Committee.

Rep. Melissa Hart, who hails from a key presidential swing state, will co-chair the committee with Colorado Gov. Bill Owens. Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), who served as a co-chairman of the Platform Committee four years ago, will fill the panel’s top position — chair.

“It’s a real honor,” said the 42-year-old Hart, adding that she was surprised when she got a call from President Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove “a couple months” ago asking if she’d like to serve. “Obviously, they weren’t afraid to put me forward on our behalf and advocate on behalf of what I see as American principles.”

Hart, whose district encompasses much of Pittsburgh’s north and northwestern suburbs, said she will use her perch to help highlight her constituents’ policy concerns.

“I have an opportunity to bring the issues that concern my constituents and the region to the Republican platform,” Hart said.

Given that her district includes a big chunk of Pennsylvania steel country, Hart hopes to use the platform to articulate the need to improve the business climate for American manufacturers so they can compete globally. She said she wants to ensure that the United States enters into “sensible trade agreements that place a burden on our trading partners as well,” and also end what she terms, “the medical liability crisis.”

Despite her relative youth, Hart is hardly a newcomer to the convention process. She served as a delegate to the 1996 convention in San Diego and was a speaker four years later in Philadelphia, the year she made her first bid for Congress.

“She’s the new face of the Rust Belt,” said David Patti, president of Pennsylvanians for Effective Government, a pro-business political action committee and a longtime friend of Hart’s. “She has the ability to bring other people to the party … to put a young face and a twist on those [Republican] ideas.”

Although Hart said she expected the platform to include support for an amendment barring same-sex marriage, she added that it was also important that policies that “support the family unit,” such as the child tax credit and Bush’s tax cuts, be made permanent.

On a personal level, Hart said she will use her platform committee position “to bring more women into this part of the process.”

“I want to fire them up to be more involved … not only in the party but encourage them further to be a candidate,” she said.

According to a precedent that was set in 1968, the GOP’s platform-writing panel is led by a three-person council that consists of one governor, one Senator, and one Representative. By tradition, the chairmanship rotates every four years between a governor, a Senator and a Representative. In 2000, then-Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson chaired the committee. Prior to that, House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (Ill.) held the post.

While Patti noted that the platform itself is not necessarily widely read or circulated, he added that the selection of Hart — who is widely viewed as a rising star in both Pennsylvania and national politics — could be a harbinger of bigger things on her horizon.

Though she may face a Democratic challenge in 2006 from Chris Heinz — the son of the late Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) and stepson of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry — Patti compared Hart’s rise to that of Sen. Rick Santorum, the western Pennsylvania Republican who is now chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Patti said Hart’s name is frequently mentioned in Keystone State political circles as a potential U.S. Senator or governor.

The full GOP Platform Committee, which includes some 100-plus delegates — a man and a woman from each state and territory —will hold its first meeting the week before the GOP convention. The convention runs from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 in New York City.

For their part, the Democrats completed their platform over the weekend. Their nominating convention opens in less than two weeks in Boston.

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