McCain Scales Back Republican Party Convention and Puts on 'American Hat'

Article excerpt

HURRICANE GUSTAV THE POLITICS

JOHN McCAIN in effect froze the Republican Party convention in St Paul, Minnesota yesterday, telling Americans that it was time to forswear politics as usual as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf Coast.

The decision left thousands of delegates and reporters in limbo in Minnesota and perhaps millions of balloons inflated for nothing. And instead of reclaiming the initiative from the Democrats and Barack Obama, the Republicans were facing a perfect storm of their own, brought on by memories of Katrina.

Speaking via satellite from St Louis, Missouri, Mr McCain declared all usual party razzmatazz out of bounds and said it was time to "take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats".

The Bush administration is still haunted by the incompetent response to the 2005 disaster. Even before last night's announ- cement, George Bush and his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, had cancelled their plans to travel to St Paul and address delegates.

It was unclear last night how much of the party's convention plan will be salvaged beyond today. Barring an unexpected change of course or weakening of Gustav, it seemed unlikely that much convention business would occur tomorrow either.

If Gustav indeed becomes a natural disaster on the scale of Katrina, the convention in St Paul may end up doing very little beyond conducting the official business of conferring the nomination on Mr McCain. Rick Davies, a top political aide, said that the convention represents for Mr McCain "the culmination of his political career," and that he wants to be in St Paul, he "won't do anything inappropriate".

Three years ago, Mr Bush was holiday when he made his ill-judged remark that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet". Two days later he made it to the city, but it was a only a flyover, and the photo of him staring out the window of Air Force One unintentionally became a symbol of his administration's botched response. …