ST. PAUL, Minn Gustav has crashed the Republicans' party.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the party's presumptive presidential nominee, announced Sunday that a significant portion of the weeklong national convention will be canceled because of the immediate threat from Hurricane Gustav to the Gulf states. That will begin Monday, when the only thing scheduled will be the opening of the convention.
Monday was supposed to be the night when President George W. Bush spoke to delegates, but Bush will instead stay in Texas and Louisiana to monitor the hurricane situation.
For Utah delegates, they are disappointed to see the changes, but primarily because it is happening because of another threat to a region still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, which hit in 2005.
"I think the whole focus of the convention is going to change to a service atmosphere and fundraising efforts for the victim," said Todd Weiler, a delegate and the vice-chair of the state party.
Weiler said the biggest disappointment, personally, was that his 11-year-old son would not be able to see the president speak. But that is a minor concern for him.
Also, the Utah delegation will find themselves without a special guest at their hotel. Vice President Dick Cheney, who canceled his trip to Minnesota, was supposed to stay at the Utah delegation's hotel.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., after a speech to the Arizona delegation, said that the potential disaster gives American's a chance to see how the GOP nominee would handle a crisis as president.
"It kind of makes it more exciting to be here," Huntsman said. "It'll be reality TV."
The governor said that the state has already been contacted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Utah Department of Public Safety is readying a response. Although Utah was the first state to accept Hurricane Katrina evacuees, it probably will not be necessary this time.
Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said that the efforts of party members at the convention will serve to reinforce the central theme, "Country First," of the convention.
National party officials, in a news release Sunday, said that the week's events are in flux, but that pretty much everything except official business to open the convention would be canceled. They also formed the Affected States Working Group established an Affected States Information Center.
McCain's campaign has also chartered a DC-9, which will be used to fly delegates from affected states home.
Rick Davis, the campaign manager for McCain, said that the party needs to focus on the hurricane.
"We are deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of the residents of the Gulf State region," he said. "Our top priority is to assist those who will be affected by Hurricane Gustav. This is not a time for politics or celebration. It is a time for us to come together as Americans and assist the residents of the Gulf States."
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 that 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.
McCain said he was looking forward to attending the convention but did not say when he would arrive. He spoke via satellite from St. Louis after he and Palin received a briefing on hurricane preparations in Jackson, Miss.
McCain said of his briefing in Mississippi: "I'm happy to report to you that the coordination and the work that's being done at all levels appears to be excellent." He cited remaining challenges in communications and search and rescue operations, but emphasized that the response seemed to be going more smoothly than the one three years ago.
"I have every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated," he said.
The Bush administration's handling of that storm contributed to a plunge in the president's approval ratings that helped the Democrats win control of Congress in 2006.The uncertainty contrasted with a state of readiness inside the Xcel Center, a hockey arena transformed into a made-for-television 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.
Contributing: Associated Press