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Hurricane Gustav Forces GOP to Cancel Much of First Day Convention Schedule

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The Republican National Convention gets under way today in St. Paul, Minnesota. Party leaders dramatically scaled back the schedule because of Hurricane Gustav. KPCC's Frank Stoltze is in St. Paul and talked with Morning Edition host Steve Julian about what the Republicans will be doing today.

Frank Stoltze: Steve, they'll meet for about two hours starting at 3 o'clock, officially constituting the convention, and do some other housekeeping, but that's about it. President Bush, Laura Bush, Vice President Cheney, all were supposed to speak tonight to a primetime television audience, but they've all cancelled. I spoke late yesterday with Congressman David Dreier, who represents the San Gabriel Valley, and is the official parliamentarian of the convention.

Congressman David Dreier: Right now, we have a million of our fellow Americans who are fleeing their homes, and this obviously is not a time for partying and celebration, and so we are doing everything that we possibly can to ensure that we provide support to those who are victimized by what is going to be a huge, huge storm.

Stoltze: Republican leaders say they'll wait and see what happens along the gulf coast today before they decide what'll happen the rest of the week, Steve. At some point, if they want to have a candidate on the November ballot, they need to officially nominate John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Steve Julian: You've been in touch with the delegates from California. How are they reacting to all of this?

Stoltze: They seem to agree with party leaders. Here is Sue Pruner; she's from San Luis Obispo, just north of Santa Barbara.

Sue Pruner: Cancelling, I think, is out of the question. We're here. And people have made all kinds of plans to be here. There's an enormous amount that's gone into it. But I think certainly a matter of creative redirecting, and maybe there are resources here which can be brought to bear that will be helpful to the people who are now facing this.

Stoltze: That's exactly what's happening. The Minnesota-based Medtronic Corporation had planned a big party tonight for California delegates. It's now a fundraiser for Gulf Coast residents.

The Morongo Mission Band of Indians of California is still hosting an event tomorrow, but it's no longer called a "Bloody Mary brunch." Lots of corporations and lobbyists here building relationships; now they're needing to do a little charity work as well.

Julian: Yeah, the politics will continue, despite the truncated schedule.

Stoltze: That's right. In fact, analysts have suggested the hurricane has given Republicans a chance to distance themselves from an unpopular president who'll no longer speak here, and a chance for McCain to show leadership by focusing on a disaster.

And behind the scenes, there's plenty of politicking. St. Paul's Cathedral invited delegates to attend mass yesterday, then hosted an event where Pro-Life Republicans touted McCain. New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith is chairman of the Pro-Life Caucus.

Congressman Chris Smith: I think the Catholic vote, probably more than any other group of individual voters, will make the difference in this election, and he has given us every reason; the platform is strong, it affirms the dignity and the value of life and of marriage, and certainly the pick of the governor from Alaska was a grand slam, in my opinion. [Applause] So we need to march out, this week...

Stoltze: Indeed, a lot of people seem to like Alaska governor Sarah Palin as McCain's vice presidential running mate. One California delegate called her the future of the party. Another said she appreciated Pallin's fiscal conservatism.

Julian: Frank Stoltze, what else is on tap today?

Stoltze: GOP leaders give an update at noon on the rest of the convention schedule this week, anti-war activists plan march from the state capitol building in St. Paul to the convention site, and with more time on their hands, Republican delegates may be spending a little bit more time in the bars, Steve. In fact, the state of Minnesota has allowed the bars to stay open until 4 a.m. during the convention, not the usual 2 a.m.

Julian: Be sure to get your sleep.

Stoltze: (laughs) Thanks, Steve.

Julian: Frank Stoltze reporting from St. Paul, Minnesota. We'll have him all week with us here on 89.3, KPCC. Thanks, Frank.

Stoltze: Thank you.