McCain Response To Gustav To Be Scrutinized

John McCain says defenses against Hurricane Gustav are better than three years ago when Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. John Dickerson, chief political correspondant for Slate.com, talks about what the storm could mean for the McCain campaign.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Also in St. Paul, Slate.com's chief political correspondent John Dickerson. John, welcome back to the show. Obviously, not the convention the GOP was hoping for and planning for. So what is the message of the party and of Senator McCain with Hurricane Gustav?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Correspondent, Slate.com): You know, the message of this campaign was putting country first. That was always the larger theme, and now Senator McCain gets to sort of put that in action. He's turned the GOP fundraisers who are here - who raise money for the party, now they're going to raise money for Gustav victims.

The McCain website has turned into this place where people can go to not only give money, but where they can learn about Senator McCain's view that you know, one should always put country first. He's talked since his 2000 campaign about serving a cause greater than self-interest. So, he's trying to morph the campaign into a seminar on national service, which is both good policy in their view, but also good politics.

CHADWICK: What about the response of the candidate himself? He visited an emergency management facility in Mississippi yesterday and he's talking about - this is a non-political event.

Mr. DICKERSON: Sure, that's what you're supposed to say. Three years ago of course, President Bush mishandled badly the response to Hurricane Katrina. That's obviously in every Republican's mind. Senator McCain was also photographed when Katrina was hitting, with then-President Bush, with a birthday cake. That's a bad image for Senator McCain.

So he's replacing those images with new ones of him being presidential or as presidential as a candidate can be who doesn't really have control over anything, showing his concern, trying to sort of step into the role, so the people can envision him as a possible president.

CHADWICK: So, Senator McCain is not yet in St. Paul, but I read that Sarah Palin is. The Alaska governor and surprise pick for vice president. What's going on there?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, she is being met by a lot of enthusiastic Republicans. You know, there's always been this great question about John McCain and the enthusiasm within his party. And the delegates I've talked to and Republicans who are in town, that I've talked to, are very happy to have the gun enthusiasts who loves the fact that she is a sportsman or sportswoman, excuse me. And you have the evangelicals who recognize her as one of their own and also like the pick, because they think it means - it suggests that Senator McCain cares about them in a way they hadn't thought that he did. And then you have just Republican women, who love to have a woman on the ticket.

So, they all are quite excited about Governor Palin. And because of this pause, she may get a day or two more to kind of get her legs under her. It's a tricky thing to be put on the national stage with so few days left in the actual election, and she's got a big speech to give. And so this little pause here probably gives her a moment to breath from her national role out.

CHADWICK: Well, it is a tricky thing, and you kind of wonder are there delegates or Republican insiders walking around there saying, we love her, we love her, we love her, oh wait a minute, who is she?

DICKERSON: Well, you know, it's interesting. I mean, there may be some who say that, but for Republican insiders, and I've been talking to a fair number of them. They had some idea who she was. Surely there are some who have quickly educated themselves and obviously everybody is on message here.

But the ones that I've talked to seemed to suggest that they knew enough about her previously. That they were pretty quick with the facts. And it's - one interesting thing though is that you've got Republicans championing a woman who fought the Republican Party in her own state.

You know, there are a couple of quick reversals here. Republicans used to talk about experience. They have - many of them have changed their view on the experience question, now that someone with so little foreign policy experience is the number two on the ticket. And also, they are now loving the whole maverick notion, which they didn't so much love when John McCain was making his reputation as a candidate who bucked his own party.

CHADWICK: Who knows what daily polls mean, but it looks as though Senator Obama's bump, and he did get one out of the Democratic Convention, has kind of gone away somewhat in the last couple of days, maybe because of Sarah Palin.

DICKERSON: That's certainly what the McCain campaign thinks. I've sent some poll numbers from a CNN poll that came out that showed Senator Obama just up by one point 49 to 48 over Senator McCain. And the response I got back from the senior adviser was "Yeah, we killed his bounce." And so they certainly think that Governor Palin brought home Republicans. If you look inside the polling, this notion that women are going to flock to John McCain has not been borne out, but it does show that some Republicans are moving to him. They like the pick inside the party.

CHADWICK: Slate.com's John Dickerson in St. Paul, where the Republican National Convention is getting under way today, with attention diverted because of the hurricane. John thank you.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: And we'll have more on the storm just ahead on Day to Day.

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