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(by Russell Berman, NYSun.com) ST. PAUL, Minn. - Republicans here expect to return to an expanded, if toned-down, convention schedule this afternoon, a day after they scrapped most political activities out of concern for the Gulf Coast states pounded by Hurricane Gustav.
Party leaders gaveled open the Republican National Convention for barely two hours yesterday, in a session devoted to pro forma motions and abbreviated pleas for Americans to send aid to the nation’s storm-ravaged region.
The shortened schedule and the shadow of the storm provided for a subdued and occasionally restive mood on the convention floor, as delegates waited to learn whether good news from the South would allow normal festivities to resume for the remaining three days. Delegates and party activists were also buzzing yesterday afternoon over the disclosure by the vice presidential candidate, Governor Palin of Alaska, that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant.
The crowd at St. Paul’s XCel Energy Center roared at the arrival, shortly before 6 p.m. Eastern time, of the first lady, Laura Bush, and her would-be successor, Cindy McCain, who made cameo appearances on the convention stage to praise hurricane relief efforts and appeal for more help.
Both women sounded the theme of nonpartisanship ordered by Senator McCain. “The effect of Hurricane Gustav is just now being measured. When such events occur, we are reminded that first, we are all Americans – and that our shared American ideals will always transcend political parties and partisanship,” Mrs. Bush said after entering the hall to a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute.
Mrs. McCain added: “I would ask that each one of us commit to join together to aid those in need as quickly as possible. As John has been saying for the last several days, this is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats.”
President Bush and Vice President Cheney had been scheduled to address the convention last night, but both canceled because of the hurricane.
Mrs. Bush introduced video clips from four of the five gulf state governors – Rick Perry of Texas, Bob Riley of Alabama, Charlie Crist of Florida, and Haley Barbour of Mississippi – who briefed delegates on relief efforts and thanked them for their support.
Both the McCain and Obama campaigns had mobilized supporters to send contributions to aid organizations. The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Robert Duncan, opened the convention yesterday by calling on both delegates and television viewers to take out their cell phones and send a $5 contribution via text message to the American Red Cross. Across the convention floor, scores of delegates complied.
While the speakers yesterday avoided criticism of the Democratic nominee, Senator Obama, the program was not completely free of politics. The convention passed by acclamation its party platform, and, in the process, proclaimed a series of Republican principles. “It’s about building a better America, not about building a bigger government,” Senator Burr of North Carolina told the convention. He said Republicans were “united in spirit, united in purpose, and united behind our nominee, John McCain.”
There were also hints of how the scaled-back convention and focus on a far-improved disaster response could work in the party’s favor.
Mrs. Bush noted that the gulf state governors “all happen to be Republicans,” and Mr. Perry said Republican governors in “Republican states” were “doing a fabulous job of taking care of the citizens. That’s what we do.”
On the convention floor, some delegates said the party should be cautious about returning to the kind of amped-up, partisan speeches that voters expect from a convention, while others appeared anxious to get their shot at the unfettered attention the Democrats enjoyed last week. “If everything is okay, we ought to be able to get back to our convention,” the chairman of the New York Republican Party, Joseph Mondello, said, voicing relief that New Orleans appeared to have been spared a direct hit from Gustav. “They had their convention, so we should have ours.”
A Colorado delegate, Gary Bartel, said the party shouldn’t rush. “Americans are in danger. Forget about politics,” he said.
Regardless of when the convention returns to a full speaking schedule, viewers should expect a different feel that acknowledges the hardships faced by Gulf Coast residents, the chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, Roger Villere, told The New York Sun. “We are going to honor the men and women of America and the resiliency they have to handle what is going on in all types of crises,” Mr. Villere, a co-chairman of a convention working group set up to coordinate relief efforts for delegates from the affected states, said.
The effects of the shortened convention were felt here in other ways. Some of the traditional parties for delegates and journalists were curtailed, although some were set to go on as scheduled.
Delegates suddenly found themselves with extra free time. Mr. Bartel of Colorado said he was going to “help the Minnesota economy,” while a New York delegate, Richard Farren, said he planned to play golf. “I’m sure glad I don’t have to listen to any of those pontificating speeches,” he said.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. The Democratic National Convention was held in Denver last week. Why did the Republicans cancel most of the speeches and events scheduled for yesterday – the first day of their convention?
2. a) Who did speak on Monday night?
b) What message did each of the women deliver?
3. a) Which two of last night’s major speeches were canceled because of the hurricane?
b) Do you agree with the speakers’ decisions to cancel? Explain your answer.
4. a) What have both the McCain and Obama campaigns called on supporters to do in response to the hurricane?
b) What motive do you think they have for these requests? Explain your answer.
5. Though much was canceled, what act of party business was taken care of during the first day of the convention?
6. Hurricane Gustav was downgraded to a tropical storm last night. Do you think the Republican convention should return to its planned schedule? Explain your answer.
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ON PARTY PLATFORMS:
The National Platform is an official statement of a political party’s position on a wide variety of issues. Each issue category included in the Platform is a “plank.” A new Platform is adopted every four years by both the Democrat and Republican parties.