RNC activities to be sharply curtailed tomorrowby Melanie Sommer, Minnesota Public Radio
John McCain says Republicans will suspend most of the activities planned for Monday's opening of their national convention because of the threat of Hurricane Gustav.
McCain, who will accept the presidential nomination Thursday night, said only those portions of the program that are absolutely necessary will be held.
His words were beamed via satellite from St. Louis into the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, where Republicans are gathering to nominate him for president.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said tomorrow's session will be shortened significantly. It will begin at 3 p.m., as scheduled, and will adjourn by about 5:30 p.m.
The campaign said certain basic minimum requirements must be conducted at the convention, including a call to order and committee reports.
The opening program on Monday would be "business only and will refrain from political rhetoric," according to Davis.
President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney have already cancelled their appeareances at the RNC because of the hurricane.
Convention activities for the rest of the week will be determined on a day-by-day basis.
To help those in need, Davis said, "We are working with the delegations, financial people, finance committees, many other concerned individuals to do what we can to raise money for various charities that operate in the Gulf Coast region."
The uncertainty contrasted with a state of readiness inside the Xcel Center, a hockey arena transformed into a made-for-televison red-carpeted convention hall.
Thousands of red, white and blue balloons nestled in netting high above the floor - to be released during final-night festivities if the Republicans decide to go ahead with them.
The hasty reordering of an event months in the making underscored not only the risk posed by Gustav, but also an intense desire by McCain and Republicans to avoid the political damage President Bush suffered from his widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.
The formal business of the convention includes nominating McCain for president and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate on Wednesday.
McCain's acceptance speech, set for prime time on Thursday evening, is among the most critical events of the campaign for his chances of winning the White House.
Apart from those few events, Republicans considered major changes to the convention schedule, underscoring McCain's campaign theme of service.
Emphasizing their concern, McCain and his newly named running mate traveled to Jackson, Miss., for a tour of the state's emergency management center.
"I pledge that tomorrow night, and if necessary throughout our convention, we will act as Americans, not as Republicans," McCain told reporters.
McCain conferred by phone with Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob Riley of Alabama and Charlie Crist of Florida during the day.
Crist, with a prominent speaking role at the convention, said he was staying in his home state to tend to hurricane business, and the others were staying home as well.
Democrats, too, decided to tone down their convention-week efforts.
Party spokesman Brad Woodhouse said the Democrats had canceled a "More of the Same" rally that had been slated for Monday.
Obama said he was ready to encourage his supporters to assist any victims of the hurricane.
"I think we can activate an e-mail list of a couple of million people who want to give back," he said.
Roger Villere Jr., Louisiana Republican Party chairman, said the chartered jet would fly delegates back to their home states and also fly back to Minnesota with family members who want to evacuate the Gulf Coast area.
"We got a large plane because we needed it. We'll take any delegate that would like to go back," Villere said.
"The McCain campaign has assured me this is the first priority," he said referring to the hurricane.
(The Associated Press contribued to this report)