Storm scrambles GOP convention
Mike Allen & Jonathan Martin, Politico, Aug 30 2008
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Bush is unlikely to make it to the Republican National Convention, and McCain may deliver his acceptance speech via satellite because of the historically huge hurricane threatening New Orleans, top officials said. Late Saturday night, the RNC was planning to issue a release announcing the formation of a “working group of representatives from each of the states in Hurricane Gustav’s path. The group will ensure that all affected delegates have information and assistance in real time. The Affected States Working Group is led by all five state party chairs from the affected area, along with other delegation officials. The purpose of the group will be to regularly brief their delegates and convention planners, provide access to timely information and assistance, and give input on appropriate steps that can be taken from Minnesota.”
Officials insisted that the convention, scheduled to open here on Monday, will go on — albeit in a more limited and sedate form — even if Hurricane Gustav stays on its projected path. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday after federal officials said Gustav could grow to a catastrophic Category 5 and hit Monday afternoon somewhere between eastern Texas and western Mississippi. McCain made plans to travel to a threatened area of the Gulf Coast on Sunday, accompanied by his wife, Cindy, and running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. They planned to meet Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in Jackson, Miss., aides said. McCain was scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech Thursday but now may do so from the devastation zone if the storm hits the US coast with the ferocity feared by forecasters.
Organizers confronted a plate of unhappy options, wanting to appear in touch and sympathetic while still carrying out their necessary business of officially nominating the party’s presidential candidate. One top convention planner said Saturday night to expect a more definitive plan by mid-afternoon Sunday. The source indicated that organizers had held off on making any firm pronouncements because of the uncertainty as to when Gustav will make landfall, and because they wanted to get a better sense of its impact before making decisions. Convention planners were preparing contingencies for making the nomination official even if delegates from the threatened area were missing. Officials were considering a video link for Bush, among other possibilities that they would not specify. The Red Cross may come in to the Xcel Energy Center to mobilize the delegates in a giant service project, preparing care packages for the hurricane zone, organizers said. The White House announced that Bush on Sunday morning will visit the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a briefing by federal, state and local officials.
Republican officials here are preparing for radical changes to every element of the convention. If the storm is as bad as feared, they will dramatically alter the tone of the speeches, cut way back on the partisan red meat, eliminate the glitzy entertainment and, if they can do so legally, use the gathering for a massive fundraising drive that may even feature a passing of buckets on the convention floor to benefit the Red Cross, according to a top GOP source. “We’ll have to acknowledge that Americans are hurting,” said this Republican. Much can be changed or altogether dropped from the convention, but it emphatically must take place in some form, because McCain needs to be nominated to be legally placed on the ballot in all 50 states. “There are no exceptions to that,” said the source. For now, though, they’re hesitant to act too quickly. But as the hours pass, the television networks, which have already invested considerable cash in the made-for-TV quadrennial ritual, are becoming increasingly impatient and are pressing party officials to firm up plans. The networks are stretched thin, in terms of both personnel and equipment, between here and the Gulf region and need to make their own decisions. But Republicans are reluctant to react too quickly under pressure. “We don’t want to be pushed into a herd mentality by the television media,” said a senior GOP source.