McCain shapes a maverick GOP convention

He shuffles speaking slots in the shortened event to keep up with fast-moving developments.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters
Delegates were reflected and distorted in a decorative mirror on the floor of the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Call it the maverick convention for the nominee who cherishes his maverick image. It now appears the agenda for the rest of the Republican National Convention (RNC) here in St. Paul will be fast-moving and ad hoc – like presumptive nominee John McCain himself.

President Bush? Yes, he was scratched from Monday’s proceedings in deference to the dangers posed by hurricane Gustav. But now he’ll speak to delegates on Tuesday evening – although by video, instead of live, as originally planned.

Rudy Giuliani? He was supposed to be the convention’s Tuesday's keynote speaker, but that’s been changed, too. RNC officials deemed it likely Mr. Giuliani would still speak in a prime-time slot, but as to which day, and whether he would still be dubbed “keynote,” they could not say.

Joe Lieberman? No, he’s not going to be the vice-presidential nominee, however much affection Senator McCain has for his close friend in the Senate. But suddenly he’s been slotted into a high-profile Tuesday's speaking slot.

Senator Lieberman’s topic? “The Original Maverick.” Gee, don’t you wonder who that’s about?

But a pivot back to McCain may be just the move the GOP now needs.

“I think they’ve got to get back on track. They’ve got to get their message out,” says Kenneth Collier, an associate professor of political science at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

According to Mr. Collier, that effort might include:

Push-back on Sarah Palin. So far, the new GOP vice-presidential pick has remained silent while news of her pregnant 17-year old daughter has dominated headlines. But her own likely upcoming appearance will be an opportunity to define herself the way the GOP would like voters to see her – as a fresh-faced reformer with a real-life family.

Reintroduction of McCain. For all the years McCain has been visible in public life, there is still much the public may not know about him beyond his war-hero image. The GOP convention’s remaining days will still be the longest stretch of time the nominee may be able to capture the public’s attention and talk about how he’d be different from incumbent George Bush.

A turning of the page on Mr. Bush. Speaking of the president, the Republicans may have benefited from hurricane Gustav in the sense that it gave them a graceful way to limit their association with the poll-challenged Bush.

“The Republicans are just trying to get their breath back and move on,” says Collier.

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