What was set to be a celebratory kickoff of the 2008 Republican National Convention instead was an appeal to send help to Hurricane Gustav victims.
First Lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, stood together at the Xcel Energy Center to ask Americans to help.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” Bush said. “The American people are here to do what we can to assist.”
The afternoon’s RNC session lasted about three hours following John McCain’s earlier announcement that only necessary business would be conducted out of respect for Gustav’s victims.
Cindy McCain echoed her husband’s earlier sentiment that convention-goers should “take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats.”
But what was billed as an apolitical, bipartisan start to the RNC was not without its rhetoric.
“You’re seeing Republican governors in Republican states taking care of citizens,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said of relief efforts, in a video statement played for delegates. “That’s what we do.”
Still, aside from procedural necessities, the convention’s session was spent distributing information about how delegates and television viewers could send help.
The truncated start to the RNC was a far cry from what organizers originally had planned. President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney were supposed to address attendees Monday night along with Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman.
But not having to share the stage with President Bush and Cheney might not be the worst thing for the party, Paula O’Loughlin , an elections expert and political science professor at the University’s Morris campus, said.
“They’re not the most popular people,” she said.
But as news media and the country’s attention are drawn to the Gulf Coast rather than St. Paul, it could be a missed opportunity for Republicans, O’Loughlin said.
“They are missing a chance to get all this TV time,” she said. “And it’s a tight race.”
—Karlee Weinmann contributed to this report.
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