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Hurricane Gustav's political fallout: a subdued GOP convention

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But there's a big downside to losing four solid nights of television coverage that amounts to an infomercial, especially in the wake of the Democrats' successful convention last week.

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"He doesn't get a chance, when all of America is listening, to provide an unedited commentary about what he believes and what he wants to do," Mr. Luntz told reporters after conducting a focus group of undecided voters here in Minneapolis. "It is a huge loss for him personally, but it could be a success for the GOP if – and this is a big if – they handle the tragedy effectively."

In a way, Gustav is doing to McCain what McCain did to Obama. By announcing his surprise running mate the morning after Obama's acceptance speech, nearly all discussion of the Obama grand finale ceased as the political world scrambled to learn more about Palin and analyze the meaning of her selection. Whether a muted Republican convention can grab public attention beyond the GOP base remains to be seen. The severity of the storm will determine just how subdued Republicans need to remain for the rest of the week.

In the early going, at least, no one was taking any chances – either canceling events altogether or rebranding them. On Monday night, the "Political Chicks A Go-go" late-night party, sponsored by RightNOW!, Lifetime Networks, and others was retooled into a fundraiser for the Red Cross hurricane-relief fund. The Democratic National Committee canceled a reception for the media on Sunday and a "More of the Same" rally on Monday.

A number of Republican governors also announced they weren't coming to the GOP convention. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger bowed out, citing a state budget dispute. All the governors of states in the hurricane's path also announced they weren't coming: Bobby Jindal of Louisiana (a rising star the party was hoping to showcase during prime time), Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Rick Perry of Texas, Bob Riley of Alabama, and Charlie Crist of Florida.

Numerous Republican members of the House and Senate facing tough reelection challenges had already announced they weren't coming, such as Sens. John Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon Smith of Oregon.

Some delegates from the Gulf region opted to head home, instead of staying for the convention, but others felt it important to stay and help nominate McCain and Palin. If nothing else, the convention must adopt the party platform and formally nominate the GOP ticket.

"I do hate it that we're having a hurricane during the time of the meeting, but that's unavoidable," says Roy Roberts, a delegate from Houston. "I just hope that everything turns out all right – here and there.... So we'll blow our whistles and toot our horns and hope our man wins."

– Staffer Mary Knox Merrill contributed to this report.