Republicans open subdued convention

September 2nd, 2008 - 7:14 am ICT by IANS  

St Paul (Minnesota), Sep 2 (DPA) Hurricane Gustav battered New Orleans and the Gulf Coast Monday, but the storm’s reach extended nearly 2,000 km north to St Paul, Minnesota where the Republican Party’s presidential convention opened in a subdued atmosphere.US President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, mindful of the perception of federal indifference and incompetence in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, cancelled their planned speeches to the convention, where Senator John McCain will become the party’s nominee for the Nov 4 presidential election.

First Lady Laura Bush and McCain’s wife, Cindy, made only brief statements appealing to the nation to support relief efforts for people in the hurricane-affected states on the Gulf of Mexico.

“I would ask that each one of us commit to join together to aid those in need as quickly as possible,” Cindy McCain said.

Laura Bush said the “first priority” was the safety of residents and that her and President Bush’s prayers were with those in the Gulf Coast region.

Hurricane Gustav “reminds us that first we’re all Americans and that our share of the American ideals will always transcend party politics and partisanship,” she said.

The McCain campaign and party officials are labouring to avoid any perception of partisan politics or a Republican celebration at the convention, amid the unfolding natural disaster.

Monday afternoon, Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan gavelled open the convention, which he said would be run “according to party rules and appropriate circumstances”.

Duncan led the 2,200 assembled delegates in using their mobile phones to make an instant donation toward relief work by the American Red Cross.

“As we gather in Minnesota, a great storm threatens our country, and when one of us is threatened, all of us are threatened,” he said.

Hurricane Gustav, though, was not the only unplanned event making waves at the convention.

News of the pregnancy of the 17-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin, Senator John McCain’s vice presidential choice, leapt into the headlines Monday.

Palin, 44, the little-known governor of Alaska, was announced Friday as McCain’s surprise choice for vice president.

Monday, she and husband Todd issued a statement confirming that their daughter Bristol was five months pregnant.

“Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned,” the couple said.

“We’re proud of Bristol’s decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents.”

The Palins said that Bristol and “the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family.”

Palin, a mother of five, brings youth to the ticket of McCain, who is 72. She is an outspoken opponent of abortion, and her choice was seen as a pitch to conservative Republicans uneasy about the nomination of the more centrist McCain.

Palin will be only the second woman nominated to a major party ticket, after Geraldine Ferraro, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1984.

President Bush spent Monday in Texas, to lead the coordination of the federal storm response - a drastic change from Hurricane Katrina three years ago, when he kept low visibility as the disaster unfolded.

With Bush’s approval ratings at historic lows - hovering around 30 percent - his presence at the convention was considered unavoidable, but awkward, for the McCain campaign. Gustav has provided a convenient way for the party to minimize the role of the unpopular president amid the Iraq War and a sputtering economy.

McCain, an oft-described maverick Republican who has spent much of his 26 years in Congress at odds with his own party, has largely avoided Bush, appearing with him publicly only once since March, when the senator nailed down the nomination in intra-party primary elections.

Convention organisers said they would make decisions day-to-day about the programme Tuesday and Wednesday, and it was not clear when the official nomination of McCain would take place. His acceptance speech was scheduled for Thursday, which would kick off the final two months of the long-running election campaign.

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