ST. PAUL, Minn. | First lady Laura Bush on Monday did what only she could do on an unprecedented occasion - deliver tough political jabs on behalf of Sen. John McCain on a day in which the Republicans had forsworn overt political activity because of Hurricane Gustav.
Mrs. Bush, decked out in an off-white Peggy Jennings suit, visited with delegates from states threatened by Gustav’s winds and flooding, offering comfort and support.
“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 several news networks 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 by midmorning, it was clear that Gustav was not likely to flood New Orleans. The night of prime-time attacks on Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama was still lost to the Republicans, but that did not preclude their most popular representative from carrying the party torch.
Into her soft rhetoric, Mrs. Bush mixed some choice barbs at Mr. Obama and gave a vigorous defense of Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee; of Gov. Sarah Palin, his running mate; and of President Bush, her husband.
In her speech to the Louisiana delegation, Mrs. Bush praised Mr. McCain and gave the delegates a taste of what her political 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 Mr. Obama.
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 past 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 that they think Mr. Bush has done to America’s standing around the world.
After another speech, to the Texas delegation, Mrs. Bush defended Mrs. 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 Hurricane Katrina in 2005 proved that Mr. Bush was “out of touch” with the American people: “I have to say I don’t think President Bush is out of touch.”
Mrs. Bush appeared later on the main convention stage with Mrs. McCain, but the two women spoke under the bright lights only about efforts to help victims of Gustav.
“Today and in the coming days, let’s work together to provide those affected with the means to restore and rebuild their community,” Mrs. Bush said.