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Hurricane Gustav causes GOP to tone down convention

McCain might skip the four-day gathering completely, says convention chair Boehner.

By Ariel SabarStaff writer / August 31, 2008

GOP convention chair John Boehner is urging delegates and voters to offer relief to hurricane victims if Gustav hits the Gulf Coast.

Mary Knox Merrill/Staff

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St. Paul, Minn. – The Republican National Convention will scrap the marquee events of its opening night Monday out of respect for possible victims of a major hurricane expected to strike the Gulf Coast, the convention’s chairman said Sunday.

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“The convention is going to be handled on a day to day basis,” House minority leader John Boehner announced at a lunch for news media here hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

He raised the possibility of other cancellations at the four-day gathering, including the prospect that Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, would skip it altogether to keep the focus on the Gulf Coast as hurricane Gustav closes in.

“It’s kind of hard to talk about the message of the convention or the message of the fall campaign given what we’re dealing with,” said Representative Boehner, an Ohio Republican. “We’re all hopeful that Senator McCain will be here, will be able to address the delegates and the nation on Thursday night. But that call will be made later in the week.”

The announcement – with more details expected later Sunday – came just hours after the White House said that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had canceled speaking roles here Monday. The news was an early sign of just how much of a distraction the hurricane could become in a week meant to rally Republicans for a tough fight for the White House in November.

Boehner said that Republican leaders would ask delegates, voters, and other supporters to turn their attention to raising money and offering other relief to the Gulf Coast in the hurricane’s aftermath.

He said Republicans would still take up some housekeeping business Monday afternoon – such as the adoption of a platform and rules ­– but that the main speeches and other celebratory portions of the program would be set aside.

“There’s a disaster about to hit our country – our first concern ought to be with the people who are in the path of this potential disaster,” he said. “We can deal with our convention and deal with our message in a way that puts them first…. Everyone will have to modify their plans in terms of how we deliver our message about John McCain.”

In addition to its obvious capacity for human devastation, the hurricane injects a host of political complications into to what was supposed to be a week of celebrations and party-building. The sight of thousands of people fleeing New Orleans three years after hurricane Katrina is a searing reminder of what critics have said was the Bush administration’s failed response to the 2005 disaster.