- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS | Republican John McCain’s campaign chartered a plane Sunday to fly some Gulf Coast delegates home from the party’s convention and evacuate the families of others to Minnesota in light of Hurricane Gustav.

The 50-seat airplane was scheduled to travel Sunday afternoon to Jackson, Miss., said Roger Villere Jr., Louisiana Republican Party chairman.

The same plane was to pick up family members in the Gulf Coast for other delegates who elected to stay at the convention, he said.

“We got a large plane because we needed it,” Mr. Villere said. “We’ll take any delegate that would like to go back.”

Mr. Villere said the McCain campaign and the Republican Party met with each state party chairman from the Gulf Coast area about the hurricane.

“The McCain campaign has assured me this is the first priority,” Mr. Villere said.

After the campaign announced it had chartered the plane, Louisiana delegates huddled in the lobby of their Minneapolis hotel to make arrangements to suit their situations and their families back home.

Chadwick Melder, a convention delegate from Baton Rouge, planned to bring his wife and two teenage children to Minnesota until the hurricane threat passes.

“I’m trying to get my family out of there and stay here for the week,” Mr. Melder said. “I have responsibilities here as well.”

On Sunday, Mr. McCain canceled all of Monday’s convention activities except necessary items of business. The schedule for the rest of the four-day convention was to be determined on a day-by-day basis.

Louisiana state Sen. A.G. Crowe was among Louisiana delegates planning to head back on the plane. He said he had “mixed feelings” about the decision to leave.

Mr. Crowe said fellow delegates and others in the national party are disappointed about the storm interrupting the event, but understand that it requires adjustments.

“As important as this convention is, the safety and welfare of American citizens is the No. 1 priority, so everything is being adjusted but not canceled,” he said.

Other delegates worried that they would not be able to reach their loved ones if the storm hit and wiped out cell phone communications.

Rhett Davis, another Louisiana delegate, said his 83-year-old mother-in-law and four adolescent children were driving from Baton Rouge to Jackson in hopes of getting on the plane for its return trip to Minnesota.

“I just felt nervous having them there in this storm, and me not being there,” Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Davis, like other delegates, had initially considered leaving the convention, but said he was concerned that too many departures would leave Louisiana without the 47 people needed to cast its full vote.

Bringing his family to Minnesota solved that problem, he said.

cAP writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report.

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