Hurricane complicates GOP National Convention

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By Carol A. Clark

Both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheny canceled their appearances on day one of the 2008 Republican National Convention Monday as Hurricane Gustav raced toward New Orleans.

The first-night program was cut from seven to two-and-a-half-hours and aides of presumptive presidential nominee John McCain chartered a jet to fly delegates back to their hurricane-threatened states along the Gulf Coast.

The formal business of the convention includes nominating McCain for president and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate Wednesday.

McCain's acceptance speech, set for prime time Thursday evening, is among the most critical events of the campaign.

Revamping an event months in the planning is unprecedented, affecting not only the program on the podium but the accompanying fundraising, partying and other political activity that unfolds around the edges of a national political convention.

McCain and Palin made a stop in Jackson, Miss., Sunday where they were briefed on hurricane preparations. McCain also indicated he may make his acceptance speech not from the convention podium but via satellite from the Gulf Coast region.

"This is a time when we have to do away with our party politics and we have to act as Americans," McCain said in an Associated Press report. "I have every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated."

Emphasizing their concern about the hurricane, McCain and Palin toured the state's emergency management center where he told reporters, "I pledge that tomorrow night, and if necessary throughout our convention, we will act as Americans, not as Republicans."

The convention is being held at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center through Thursday.

The New Mexico delegation, including alternate delegate Veronica Rodriguez of Los Alamos, had breakfast with the Louisiana delegates today.

There were several speakers, she said, including former Prisoner of War Tom Kirk. Kirk is the retired Air Force colonel shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War who spent five-and-a-half-years as one of McCain’s “Hanoi Hilton” cellmates.

“He shared personal experiences of his time there and described how dedicated Sen. McCain was to service and his country and of his ability to endure what went on there,” Rodriguez said. “It was really inspiring. Unless you’ve been there, you have no idea the horrors that occurred.”

Sen. Pete Domenici gave what Rodriquez described as a rousing speech at the breakfast and spoke of his service in the senate and his 36 years there, adding that delegates from Louisiana thanked Domenici for his help following Hurricane Katrina.

Millions of people around the world are expected to watch as the Republican Party convenes its 39th nominating convention. The roughly 2,380 delegates and 2,227 alternate delegates elected to represent their states and territories will play a critical role in our nation’s democratic process – and secure a place in political history.

Delegates of all ages and backgrounds will vote together to nominate the Republican Party’s candidates for president and vice president of the United States.

National conventions combine three important functions: nomination of candidates for office of president and vice president; formulation and adoption of a statement of party principles – the platform; and adoption of rule and procedures governing party activities, particularly the nomination process for presidential candidates in the next election cycle.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.