GOP Scales Down Convention Plans

With Hurricane Gustav churning towards the Gulf Coast, Republicans announced Sunday that their national convention will have a very different vibe — and shape — when it opens Monday night in St. Paul, Minn.

The GOP's presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, said it's time for his fellow Republicans to "do away with our party politics."

NPR's David Welna talks with host Jackie Lyden about the GOP's scaled-down plans.

GOP Scuttles Most Plans For Convention's First Day

Sen. John McCain in Mississippi i i

hide captionArizona Sen. John McCain speaks at a press conference after visiting the command center at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency for an update on Hurricane Gustav on Sunday.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Sen. John McCain in Mississippi

Arizona Sen. John McCain speaks at a press conference after visiting the command center at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency for an update on Hurricane Gustav on Sunday.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
preparations for the RNC i i

hide captionA worker vacuums the stage in preparation for the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday in St. Paul.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
preparations for the RNC

A worker vacuums the stage in preparation for the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday in St. Paul.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. i i

hide captionSigns welcome members of the news media and delegates to the Xcel Energy Center ahead of the Republican National Convention on Friday.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Signs welcome members of the news media and delegates to the Xcel Energy Center ahead of the Republican National Convention on Friday.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Sen. John McCain with VP pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin i i

hide captionSen. John McCain (R-AZ), along with his vice presidential pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, during a campaign event at Consol Energy Park on Saturday in Washington, Pa.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Sen. John McCain with VP pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), along with his vice presidential pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, during a campaign event at Consol Energy Park on Saturday in Washington, Pa.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As Hurricane Gustav barrels toward the Gulf Coast, Republicans have suspended all but essential activities planned for the first day of their convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Republican Sen. John McCain, who is scheduled to receive his party's presidential nomination later this week, announced Sunday an abrupt change of plans for the convention, canceling much of Monday's activities except for some formal party business. He called this a time "when we have to do away with our party politics, and we have to act as Americans."

Speaking to party officials in St. Paul over a video linkup from St. Louis, McCain said, "Ahead of time, I want to thank all my fellow Republicans as we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats, and we say, 'America, we're with you. America, we're going to care for these people in their time of need.'"

Republican officials say they plan to hold fundraising efforts for victims of the storm throughout the week, and raised the possibility that some of the money that would be spent on parties and other convention-related activities might instead be channeled to hurricane relief.

"We are working with the delegations, financial people, finance committees, many other concerned individuals to do what we can to raise money for various charities that operate in the Gulf Coast region," said McCain campaign manager Rick Davis.

Limited Day One Activities

Monday's session will be limited to approval of the 2008 party platform and adoption of the convention rules, cutting an anticipated seven-hour session to two-and-a-half hours.

Republicans want to avoid comparisons to when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans three years ago, and the Bush administration was severely criticized for its response.

Earlier Sunday, McCain toured an emergency preparation center in Mississippi with his wife, Cindy, and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. In his video message, McCain said that he was "happy to report to you that the coordination and the work that's being done at all levels appears to be excellent." He said there were challenges in communications and search and rescue operations, but that he has "every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated."

The White House announced Sunday morning that neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney — both scheduled to address the first session of the convention Monday night — will appear in St. Paul. Bush instead will be heading to the Gulf Coast to observe preparations for the massive storm, which is expected to make landfall Monday.

Aside from Bush and Cheney, other notable convention speakers have also canceled plans to attend.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was scheduled to speak Monday, but has begged off because of a budget dispute in his state. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has canceled, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will stay home to deal with the storm.

The McCain campaign said it was making available a chartered jet in St. Paul for any delegates from Louisiana and Mississippi who want to return home.

Nearly 5,000 GOP delegates and alternates will be attending the convention, along with some 15,000 members of the media.

Along with the convention, the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis are bracing for four days of demonstrations. Organizers say some 50,000 people are expected for the largest, a march Monday from the Minnesota Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center, the site of the convention, sponsored by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War.

Police raided homes and a center used by a self-styled anarchist group Friday and Saturday, seizing buckets allegedly containing human urine, along with flammable liquids, "throwing knives" and PVC pipe and duct tape, which authorities say was to be used by protestors to lock themselves together; six people were arrested. Police say those arrested were leaders of the RNC Welcoming Committee, an anarchist group whose motto is "crash the convention."

The McCains Defend Palin

Aside from the hurricane, much of the buzz at the convention was over McCain's surprise choice of Palin as his running mate.

In an appearance on Fox News Sunday that was taped Saturday, McCain defended his selection of the first-term governor, who critics say lacks experience in foreign policy matters. He said Palin had been to Kuwait to see her state's National Guard troops.

"She's had 12 years of elected office experience, including traveling to Kuwait, including being involved in these issues," McCain said. "I'm so proud that she has displayed the kind of judgment, and she has the experience and judgment as an executive."

McCain's wife, Cindy, appeared on ABC's This Week and said Palin had experience with Russia, because of Alaska's proximity to it. "Remember, Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia. So it's not as if she doesn't understand what's at stake here," she said.

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