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Hurricane Gustav may disrupt Republican convention

September 01, 2008 09:15 IST

Hurricane Gustav churning towards the Gulf Coast of the US nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated that region has not only killed any chance of Louisiana Governor Piyush 'Bobby' Jindal creating history once again, but may end up completely disrupting the Republican National Convention that was scheduled to kick off in Minneapolis-Saint Paul and run through September 4.

Jindal, who created history by becoming the only Indian-American to be elected a governor of a US state last November, who was scheduled to speak at the convention on Wednesday at prime time, would have been the first Indian-American to have ever spoken at a major political convention.

But, obviously, the last thing on his mind as Gustav headed towards New Orleans and other areas of Louisiana and expected to hit parts of Mississippi and Texas, was to speak at the convention after his predecessor Democrat Kathleen Blanco's pathetic performance during Katrina was what decimated her chances of re-election, which made her decide not to seek another term, after Jindal effectively used this to beat up on her and win the gubernatorial race convincingly.

But not just Jindal, the Governors of Mississippi Haley Barbour and Texas Rick Perry, both Republicans, and even Florida Governor Charlie Christ, also a Republican, decided not to attend the convention because of Gustav, and President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, slated to speak on the first day, cancelled their appearances and even video remarks from Bush was ruled out by the White House.

Even worse was that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain may not attend too and he may end up accepting the nomination by satellite and convention organisers and GOP officials Minneapolis-Saint Paul said they will only make plans on "a day to day basis."

If this happens, it would be unprecedented in the annals of political conventions in this country, as is the suspension of activities at any such convention because of an impending natural disaster.

Speaking to more than 20,000 delegates, guests and supporters gathered in Minneapolis-Saint Paul and nearly 15,000 journalists by satellite from St Louis, Missouri, McCain said, "We are facing a great national challenge and the possibility of a great natural  disaster."

"This is a time when we have to do away with our party politics and we have to act as Americans. We have to join the 300 million other Americans on behalf of our fellow citizens. It is a time for action."

Consequently, McCain said, "We are going to suspend most of our activities tomorrow (Monday) except for those that are absolutely necessary."

He said as Barbour had said, "We will continue to pray for the best and prepare for the worst and I think that's what we are doing as a nation."

"So, ahead of time, I want to thank all my fellow Republicans as we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats and we say, 'America, we are with you, America, we are going to care for this people in their time of need.'"

"I can hardly wait to get out there and I hope and pray we'll be able to resume some of our normal operations as quickly as possible, but some of that is frankly in the hands of God," McCain said.

Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, briefing journalists in the media centre of the cavernous Xcel Energy Center where the convention is to be held, said, on Monday only some pressing business would be conducted and there would be no roll call of delegates or any speeches or any other activity.

"The reason we are not able to give you more notice on what the convention will do is because we want to be respectful of the situation that exists in the Gulf. We can't be predictive of it," Davis added.

"By nature, it is an unpredictable event. Therefore, we will take our time in an effort to make sure that nothing we do distracts from the activities in the Gulf," Davis added.

He said that since McCain had "asked us to take our Republican hats off and put our American hats on, tomorrow's programme will be business only and we will refrain from any political  rhetoric that would be tradition in an opening session of a convention."

He said delegates would be exhorted "to raise money during the course of the week for various charities that operate in the Gulf region," to help those who would be affected by the Gustav.

When reporters pressed him and asked him whether McCain would attend at all to accept the nomination in person, Davis said, "Right now, we are making plans on a day to day basis. We hope and pray that conditions in the Gulf don't deteriorate and that it has the minimum loss of property and life it's possible that we hopefully can restore some of the activities that are in our convention programme."

However, he reiterated that he cannot speak to any plans "beyond tomorrow of what's going to be in the programme."

"All the speculation about (McCain) not being here for the nomination is completely premature and outside the scope of what I can tell you with any specificity today," Davis said.

Davis also said the message would go out to all the corporations and lobbyists who have organised a slew of parties and celebrations that these be toned down in keeping with the impending disaster. "We will be communicating to all those corporations and individuals who will be holding various events and activities around the convention to please be respectful of the situation that exists in the Gulf and to employ them as part of the extended fundraising network that we hope to establish in order to raise money for the Gulf charities."

Aziz Haniffa in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota