Somber appeals for aid, plus a jolt of political star power. If the first day of the Republican National Convention is any guide, that’s the balance the GOP will be trying to strike here in St. Paul all week.
Once the gavel fell in late afternoon Monday, almost the first order of business at the Xcel Energy Center was a request from Mike Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), for delegates to punch a code into their cellphones and make a donation to the Red Cross to help victims of hurricane Gustav.
Only a few hours later, First Lady Laura Bush and First Lady nominee Cindy made a surprise joint appearance at which they repeated the GOP’s mantra of the moment.
“As John has been saying, this is the time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats,” said Mrs. McCain, referring to efforts to pull together to help affected Gulf Coast states.
Of course, there can be political gain for a candidate in appearing presidential – as videos introduced by Mrs. Bush of four Gulf state governors made clear.
All talked about banding together to help their friends and neighbors in afflicted states. All four – Rick Perry of Texas, Bob Riley of Alabama, Charlie Crist of Florida, and Haley Barbour of Mississippi – happen to be Republicans. So is Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who did not appear.
“You’re seeing Republican governors in Republican states doing a fabulous job of taking care of their citizens. That’s what we do,” he said.
Laura Bush talked of the “changed focus” of the convention, and that was evident in the subdued manner in which RNC chief Duncan gaveled through items on the program agenda.
Thus the convention quickly adopted the GOP platform, a nonbinding document that among other things declares the party’s unconditional opposition to abortion, calls for a fence along the nation’s southern border, and judges that English should be the US national language.
Delegates also voted to ban states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina from holding their 2012 primaries before the first Tuesday in March. Those states have fought hard to maintain their electoral prerogatives.
The schedule for the convention’s remaining days remains unclear, though some activities will clearly continue. The biggest question remained whether John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin will appear in person at the proceedings or accept their nominations in some other manner.