REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION
Hurricane has delegates shifting their priorities
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ST. PAUL, Minn. » Uncertainty gripped the Republican National Convention yesterday in this city 1,000 miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, where Hurricane Gustav threatened a crippling blow.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney canceled their appearances, and many officials from Gulf Coast states abruptly headed home.
"It really casts a cloud over the convention, and it physically changes the program as governors are dropping out like flies as speakers," said Hawaii delegate and state Rep. Barbara Marumoto.
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ST. PAUL, Minn. » Gov. Linda Lingle waited yesterday to see if her speaking schedule would change, while other members of the Hawaii delegation simply waited as organizers of the Republican National Convention took last-minute steps to change the program in deference to the potential disaster from Hurricane Gustav on the Gulf Coast.
Gustav was bearing down on the same New Orleans region ravaged three years ago by Hurricane Katrina at the same time of the year.
With the hurricane expected to make landfall before the start of the convention, President Bush decided to skip the opening festivities at the convention today to instead concentrate on the emergency response to the storm.
With Hurricane Gustav posing as a threat, Hawaii GOP leader said that some appearances and speeches for the GOP convention have either been put on hold or have been cancelled.
The convention itself was scheduled to kick off at 2:30 p.m. today and go until 10:30 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center. But McCain campaign chairman Rick Davis announced yesterday that the opening session would be trimmed to about two hours, starting at about the same time and concentrating only on the minimum business required by the party's rules for opening the event and selecting the Republican nominee.
"We want to be respectful of the situation that exists in the gulf," Davis said at a news conference. "Therefore, we will take our time and effort to make sure that nothing we do distracts from the activities in the gulf."
All events after tonight's session will be determined on a day-by-day basis, he added. "We will try to constitute as much of a program as events allow us to do."
Lingle was scheduled to speak tomorrow, on the second night of the convention, but was asked by organizers to "be flexible" in case she is needed to speak on another night, said Lenny Klompus, her senior adviser for communications.
Nothing had been finalized by last night.
The storm prompted elected officials and delegates from the Gulf Coast region to abruptly leave the Twin Cities to take care of matters at home.
Speaking on the MSNBC cable news network early yesterday, Lingle said she expected the mood of the convention to be "toned down."
"Once we know what the impact is, I think things will become more of a party atmosphere," she said. "But for now -- and I'm very comfortable with people recognizing it -- partying when others are facing tragedy is not the right thing to be doing."
Members of the Hawaii delegation spent the morning at their hotel, watching convention and hurricane updates on TV and preparing to participate in an event expected to be more subdued than originally thought.
"We're concerned up here as we open up our convention," said delegate and state Rep. Barbara Marumoto. "It really casts a cloud over the convention, and it physically changes the program as governors are dropping out like flies as speakers."
Delegate Miriam Hellreich, the Hawaii Republican national committeewoman, said the party's main concern is the safety of those in the Gulf Coast.
"People's safety comes first -- more than politics, more than any kind of political agenda anybody has," she said.
Delegates added that while they are disappointed Bush will be unable to attend, they understand that duty calls.
"We appreciate the fact that the president has work to do right now," said Hawaii Republican Party Chairman Willes Lee. "We'd love to have him here -- the party's still strongly behind him -- but with his other duties, we fully understand why he can't be here."
Meanwhile, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said the city was keeping abreast of the situation and working with the host committee on plans for the convention, which has been planned since 2006.
"Today's announcement does not change our intent to host a safe and successful convention," Coleman said in a news release. "Our role is to provide security for visitors, delegates, and those who have come to St. Paul to peacefully express their First Amendment rights.
"We anticipate any changes to the program of the convention to have a minimal effect on our operations."