HOUSTON -- In less than a week, Alan Keyes has gone from near total eclipse to shooting star in the galaxy of GOP convention orators.
Feeling snubbed by his party last week, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Maryland fired a broadside over -- or into -- the bow of the GOP's already leaking ship. The party was insensitive to black voters, he suggested in news interviews.
A day later, Mr. Keyes had a speaking role at his party's convention. He was one of several senatorial challengers who addressed the convention and its viewers at yesterday morning's opening session.
The fiery candidate had also been asked to introduce former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. But that invitation later was withdrawn without explanation, according to Mr. Keyes's press aide.
Another assignment to introduce a lesser speaker also was changed. In its place, however, came an opportunity to make a second speech on his own last night.
In his first address yesterday, Mr. Keyes started firing at the real enemy, the Democrats.
"At their convention in July," he said, "the Democratic leadership once again revealed their greatest ability. They don't know how to run the country but they sure know how to run the country down. If the script calls for whining negativism and tearful complaint, they are the experts."
In what seemed a reference to his own race against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in Maryland, he said, "They call this the year of the woman. When will they learn? The wave that is building this year is not on behalf of one sex, one race, one group over another. It is against the incumbents of every stripe who have lost respect for those they are supposed to serve."
In last night's speech, the 42-year-old Darnestown resident urged his party to repair to its traditions: "We must oppose racism, anti-semitism and group hatred, whether it parades openly in the garb of the Klan or masquerades beneath the soft accents of sophisticated power."
Addressing his party's concern for black voters, he said, "Many of these Americans agree with our values, but they doubt our continued commitment to the struggle for justice for all."
Mr. Keyes said his rocky trip to the speaker's rostrum began with an appeal to various Republican party officials in Washington, none of whom answered his inquiries. Then he wrote to the White House -- and began to get some attention.
Mr. Keyes said he finally made it by "pushing hard and by trying to open the eyes of some folks that it's crazy for the Republican Party to neglect the symbolism of my race, a race that proves that . . . the Republican Party is open to all groups. I think I encountered some blindness to that."
But some Maryland Republicans thought he might have been excluded because he has been far behind Senator Mikulski in polls and other, better-positioned GOP candidates would be given the television exposure.
After Mr. Keyes lashed out at his party, Maryland Republicans were angry. There was sentiment for dropping him as a speaker. In the end, though, thoughts of retaliation were set aside.