- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS | First Lady Laura Bush on Monday morning stepped into the gap left by the cancellation of all major political activity at the Republican National Convention, serving as the public face for the White House but also delivering some political shots as Hurricane Gustav weakened in strength.

Gustav remained a threat, and Mrs. Bush delivered expressions of care and comfort to the Louisiana and Texas delegations as the category two storm pounded New Orleans with high winds and storm surge that threatened to overflow levees.

“We’re all praying that the damage will not be that bad,” Mrs. Bush told the delegates from Louisiana and their guests, at a hotel in north Minneapolis.

Mrs. Bush also gave interviews to CNN, ABC and CBS News and said that despite the “disappointment” of delegates over the cancellation of Monday night’s political program, “everyone understands and everyone is thinking about everybody all across the Gulf Coast.”

But the eye of the storm passed by New Orleans to the west, and as the nightmare scenario of another Hurricane Katrina became less likely, Mrs. Bush delivered some of the political rhetoric that the McCain campaign had decided on Sunday would be inappropriate in case of a catastrophic storm.

In her speech to the Louisiana delegation, Mrs. Bush praised Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and gave them a taste of what her speech to the convention would have been about.

“I was also going to talk about John McCain, a true American hero, someone who is … very, very experienced, especially compared with the other side,” Mrs. Bush said, in a shot at Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee.

Mrs. Bush also painted Cindy McCain, Mr. McCain’s wife, as someone who could help America’s image abroad, pointing out that in just the last four months she’s traveled to Vietnam, Georgia, and Rwanda to help in aid and refugee efforts.

“You can imagine what she’ll do in four years as first lady,” Mrs. Bush said. “Cindy would be such a huge asset for our country and such a wonderful face for all of the world to see.”

Mr. Obama’s backers have said he would repair damage they believe Mr. Bush has done to America’s standing around the world.

After her speech to the Texas delegation, Mrs. Bush defended Mr. McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, from the criticism that she is not prepared to handle foreign policy.

“She will be ready. She is a very quick learner,” Mrs. Bush said. “I think she will be ready right away.”

And the first lady also defended her husband from the critique that the government’s response to Katrina in 2005 means Mr. Bush is “out of touch” with the American people.

“I have to say I don’t think President Bush is out of touch.”

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