McCain Visits Gulf Coast Ahead Of Storm
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Hurricane Gustav blew the Republican National Convention off course. The convention gets under way today in St. Paul, Minnesota, but Republican leaders have cancelled all but a few events. Because of the storm, Republican presidential candidate John McCain ripped up the convention script, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain traveled to the Gulf Coast region Sunday to get a first-hand look at preparations for the hurricane. At an emergency command center in Pearl, Mississippi, giant TV screens showed the Weather Channel, traffic updates and a morning church service.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): (unintelligible) for all you do. God bless you.
HORSLEY: McCain also took part in a conference call with governors of four Gulf Coast states and President Bush. He said despite some lingering challenges, the region is better prepared for a hurricane than it was three years ago.
Sen. McCAIN: There's no doubt that there has been, thank God, dramatic improvement since the last tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.
HORSLEY: The federal government's slow response to Katrina's flood waters helped sink President Bush's approval ratings, and McCain is determined not to repeat those mistakes. He'd been photographed sharing birthday cake with the president on the day Katrina blew ashore. The last thing McCain wants at the GOP Convention this week is another picture of Republicans fiddling while New Orleans floods.
Sen. McCAIN: We have to go from a party event to a call to the nation for action - action to help our fellow citizens in this time of tragedy and disaster.
HORSLEY: The opening day of the convention was slashed from seven hours to just two and a half, and speeches by President Bush and Vice President Cheney were scrapped. Plans for the rest of the week are still up in the air. There is some official business the party has to take care of, such as approving the platform and electing convention officials. But instead of staging the usual partisan showcase, McCain says the GOP will live up to its theme of country first.
Sen. McCAIN: We will act as Americans, not as Republicans, because America needs us now, no matter whether we are Republican or Democrat. And America needs all of us to do what Americans have always done in times of disaster and challenge, and that is join together and help our fellow citizens.
HORSLEY: McCain joined together last night with his primary rivals Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee for a campaign rally 700 miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans in the town of O'Fallon, Missouri.
Unidentified Man: Two, three, four…
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man: (Singing) Well, we're all just raising McCain…
HORSLEY: Thousands of people filled a minor league baseball park, eager to see McCain and his new vice presidential pick: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Palin said Gulf Coast residents need to know their government is prepared for the worst. But in good times and bad, she said, government shouldn't do everything.
Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska; Vice Presidential Candidate): We don't want bigger government. We want a government that does a few big things and does them right.
HORSLEY: Since she was introduced as McCain's running mate on Friday, Palin has been talking about her commitment to fighting corruption and government waste. She describes her battles on behalf of tax payers against excessive spending, including the project that became the poster child for earmarking abuse in Congress.
Gov. PALIN: I told the Congress thanks, but no thanks for that bridge to nowhere. If our state wanted to build the bridge, we would build it ourselves.
HORSLEY: In fact, when she was running for governor two years ago, Palin campaigned for the so-called bridge to nowhere, linking the city of Ketchikan, Alaska with a sparsely populated island. She later reversed herself, but Alaska still received about half the federal money that had been set aside for the bridge. Americans may have to wait for calmer weather to judge that and other nuances of Palin's background. Just as Republicans stole the spotlight from Democrats Friday by announcing McCain's vice presidential selection, now Hurricane Gustav has taken the spotlight away from them.
Scott Horsley, NPR News.
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