ST. PAUL, Minn. — Even as Hurricane Gustav lost steam over the Gulf Coast, Republicans continued to hear calls, and take action, to help those impacted.

During an abbreviated first day at the Republican National Convention, delegates heard only two speakers of note, first lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, who they hope will be the next first lady.

Both women spoke for only a few minutes each and pretty much steered clear of politics. The closest thing to a political element was when Bush pointed out that the governors of the impacted states, including Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, were all Republicans, which received a loud cheer from the audience.

Four of the five governors addressed the convention in prerecorded messages. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal did not record a message, as he was too busy managing the crisis as Gustav laid a direct hit on his state.

If there was a star, it was the first lady, who received thunderous applause when her name was announced.

Bush called on the delegates to do whatever is needed to help, but not because of their political affiliation. Instead, they should do it because it is the right thing.

"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," she said.

In her short speech, McCain echoed the call of her husband, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is the party's presumptive presidential nominee, to ignore politics and help those in need.

"I would ask that each one of us commit to join together to aid those in need as quickly as possible," she said.

Utah delegates, for their part, responded to that call Monday night. As a group, they gathered in the basement of their hotel to put together packages with necessities for those displaced by the storm. The packages included soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, and face towels.

The effort was thrown together with help from local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, state party chair Stan Lockhart said, after they heard that most of Monday night's convention plans were being scrapped.

It is not their only project, either. Today they are going to be doing another service project and there may be others in the works should things get worse in the Gulf States forcing the cancellation of more convention activities.

Delegates said they were happy to help, even if it was happening instead of a night of political celebration.

"Politics to me is all service for the betterment of man," said delegate Richard Snelgrove of Salt Lake. "Republicans and Democrats can all agree on some things, and one of those is service."

The cancellation of Monday night's events meant that a number of big-name speakers will probably not be heard from live at the Xcel Energy Center. Those include President Bush and Vice President Cheney. It also leaves the program schedule for future days in limbo.

On Monday night there had been no official word as to whether today's program would go as planned. One of today's scheduled headliners is to be Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. The only word was that the convention schedule would be shortened to four hours, instead of the originally planned six. It is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. MDT.

Outside of the short speeches from Bush and McCain that closed the convention's opening day, much of the three hours inside the convention hall was focused on business. The party approved its rules, sat its delegates, and approved its platform. All of it was accomplished efficiently, with no debate.

The most excitement in St. Paul, in fact, may have been in the streets, where thousands of protesters rallied, primarily against the Iraq War.

Their activities snarled traffic and resulted in a few arrests, but few delegates saw the protests as their buses were routed to the convention hall, while protesters were almost two blocks away from the bus parking.


E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com; lisa@desnews.com