ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Republican National Convention will go on in a truncated fashion in light of Hurricane Gustav, and without President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
The White House Sunday morning announced neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Cheney would attend — both men were scheduled to speak Monday night — though first lady Laura Bush still will attend. Mr. Bush will fly to Texas to visit emergency preparedness center, but will not visit Louisiana to avoid interrupting that state’s preparations.
In Minnesota, a senior Republican official said the convention will go on but without some of the usual pomp and circumstance, and without any of the usual opening-night speeches.
“The likeliest scenario is that Gustav strikes on Monday and we hold all our business sessions but nothing else on Monday,” the official said after taking part in a high-level discussions among convention planners.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain visited a hurricane command center in Jackson, Miss., on Sunday morning and said the convention cannot go on in the manner scheduled.
“We must redirect our efforts from the really celebratory event of the nomination of president and vice president of our party to acting as all Americans,” he told reporters. “Well change our program and Ill be announcing details of it in the next few hours. But theres very little doubt that 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, action in the form of volunteering, donations, reaching out our hands and our hearts and our wallets to the people who are under such great threat from this great natural disaster.”
The formal nominations of the Arizona senator and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, will take place on national television.
But there will not be the conventional balloon drop, said the official, who is not empowered by the convention to speak to the press.
The official noted that both Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin are going to be with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in Jackson and could concievably give acceptance speeches from there or elsewhere if necessary, but are still more likely to fly here for the speeches.
“They don’t have to be in the convention hall to accept the nominations,” the official said.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and Republican officials met Sunday to determine what to do about the convention, but Mr. McCain vowed that politics would stay out of the hurricane response.
“I pledge that tomorrow night, and if necessary, throughout our convention if necessary, to act as Americans not Republians, because America needs us now no matter whether we are Republican or Democrat,” Mr. McCain said.
With Republican delegates streaming into St. Paul, Minn. for the marquee event, McCain officials said they may ask that more public-service elements be added and that pep-rally segments be reduced or canceled. GOP officials were in round-the-clock meetings as they tracked the storm.
Mr. Bush was harshly criticized after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans in August 2005 because he stuck to a schedule that took him from his ranch in Texas on a two-day trip to Arizona and California, where photographers snapped pictures of him smiling and strumming a guitar backstage at one event.
From there, he flew over New Orleans — which Democrats said showed how out of touch he was — on his way back to Washington and did not visit the region until five days after.