PHILADELPHIA -- Fairmont business owner Neil Breitbarth put 1,600 miles on his 1993 Chevy van en route to the Republican National Convention. That was on top of the thousands of miles he logged in his campaign to become a delegate.
Breitbarth, one of 34 Minnesota delegates on hand for Monday's convention kickoff, has had an eye toward Philadelphia since he returned from the 1996 convention in San Diego. He's been cramming in appearances at one Republican gathering after another in southeastern Minnesota to earn the return trip.
"A couple years ago, I drove 750 miles on one Saturday and never got out of the second district," he said. "I do it every year, even in the off years."
As a 44-year-old white male -- firmly opposed to legalized abortion and primarily concerned with education, moral issues and taxes -- Breitbarth fits the profile of a typical Minnesota delegate.
A survey of Minnesota delegates by The Associated Press found that at least 30 are white, almost all are married, two-thirds are men, the average age is 43 and about half are attending their first convention. A few delegates refused to answer some questions about their background.
Nationally, about 83 percent of GOP delegates are white, 61 percent are men, the average age is 47 and more than half are first-time delegates, according to the AP's poll of 1,837 of the 2,066 delegates.
Republicans are taking steps to broaden their party's appeal. In Minnesota, the party formed the Black Republican Coalition, which is touring black neighborhoods this summer to court voters who usually favor Democrats.
Breitbarth rejects suggestions that the fairly homogeneous delegation runs counter to these efforts. He said the slots -- 24 of which are decided at the congressional district level -- are open to anyone willing to put in the time.
"To be elected a delegate to the national convention is an honor and is something we don't hand out just lightly," he said. "I don't think we're going to hand out delegate positions as tokens -- and that's what it would appear being."
Steven Smith, a University of Minnesota political science professor, said Republicans compensate with a diverse group of speakers and convention leaders. One Hispanic, one female and one black will be deputy permanent chairmen this week.
"Who's sitting in the seats in the auditorium is probably less important than who's standing in front," Smith said.
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