ST. PAUL - The shadow of Hurricane Gustav more than 1,000 miles to the south hung over the Republican National Convention yesterday as the usual pomp and circumstance gave way to a plea for help.
"As John has been saying the last several days, this is a time we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats," Cindy McCain, wife of the soon-to-be GOP presidential nominee, told a somber crowd inside the Xcel Energy Center.
First Lady Laura Bush urged delegates and the public to contribute to efforts to help victims of the hurricane, which conjured up images of the damage done three years earlier by Hurricane Katrina - to the Gulf Coast and to the presidency of George Bush.
"Americans have been known for coming to the aid of their fellow citizens when crises such as these arise," she said. "Today and in the coming days, let's work together to provide those affected the means to restore and rebuild their communities."
The hurricane has also wreaked havoc with a convention that was designed to give
Mr. McCain his day in the sun to counter Democratic nominee Barack Obama's speech last week in Denver and introduce to America his little-known running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Adam Greenslade, political consultant and former Sandusky County Republican Party chairman, said he had been prepared to come out swinging this week and was disappointed by the shortened convention.
"We took it on the chin all last week," he said. "I think a lot of folks like myself were ready to come here this week to respond and show why we have the better candidate. But with what's going on with the hurricane, now's not the time to do that."
The lessons of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that fed the perception that President Bush's administration was inept at responding to a domestic disaster have not been lost on Republicans in St. Paul.
Earlier this week, Mr. McCain had promised that the same mistakes of 2005 would not be repeated, and a series of videos presented by southern Republican governors and a Texas congressman drove home the message that they and federal officials were on the job.
"You're seeing Republican governors in Republican states doing a fabulous job of taking care of the citizens. That's what we do," said U.S. Rep. Rick Perry (R., Texas).
Mr. Bush was in his home state of Texas yesterday touring a central emergency services center.
The Republican National Committee closely watched the events unfold yesterday before deciding when the convention would return to its regular schedule of prime-time political speeches.
Mr. McCain is still scheduled to accept his nomination Thursday night, while Ms. Palin will accept hers the night before.
As they were dealing with the impact of Hurricane Gustav on their political convention, delegates were shocked by news yesterday that Ms. Palin's unmarried, 17-year-old daughter is pregnant and planning to wed the father and raise the baby.
Yesterday, there were no big political speeches, just three hours of routine business and the words of Mrs. Bush and Mrs. McCain.
Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney canceled their appearances scheduled for last night. Democrats also called a temporary cease-fire in their publicity machine to react to the convention.
"I think that regardless of whether we ever had Katrina, whenever a part of the United States, in this case the Gulf Coast, is facing a catastrophic disaster, it is very important that this convention be put on hold," said Republican Jim Petro, former Ohio attorney general.
The Ohio delegation collected about $10,000 in cash, checks, and pledges for the American Red Cross as of yesterday and expected its corporate sponsors to match it for a total of about $20,000.
The Michigan delegation will participate in a blood drive at its hotel today.
Mrs. McCain urged the public to go to www.CauseGreater.com to help them contribute to efforts to assist hurricane victims.
Michigan delegate Dennis Cowan, chairman of the Oakland County Republican Party, noted there appeared to be meager attendance in the stands of the convention center but emphasized that was not a problem.
"This is my third convention and it is a little different, but we have all the delegates here seated on the floor," he said. "Given the situation in the Gulf right now, I think what's being done is appropriate."
Blade staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.
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