Republicans Curtail Convention Opening Day

"This is what it's all about," McCain said. "This epitomizes the millions of Americans who are serving on behalf of causes greater than their own self interest and putting their country first."

The Republican National Convention canceled Monday night's program of speakers. Instead, the campaign only opened for a few hours in the afternoon to satisfy party law.

Between 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, party leaders called the convention to order, received the report of the credentials committee so all delegates present can vote, adopted rules to allow the convention to go forward and elected officers and adopt party platform.

"We've scaled back our agenda and we're only going to do essential business," Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan said on a conference call with reporters Monday morning.

"I know everyone was hoping they could have the big celebration that they wanted to have around the nomination of Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin from Alaska, but on the other hand everybody understands, all the delegates understand, and everyone's eyes are on the Gulf Coast from across the country and hoping for the best and hoping that the damage will not be too severe and that people will be able to get right back to their homes there," Laura Bush said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

The Republican National Convention will be shipping 80,000 "comfort packages" with soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, snackpacks and other necessities to New Orleans and the affected regions. The "assembly site" for these packages will be the convention center, starting Wednesday morning.

Palin had no public events today but was "working on her speech and we're confident she will deliver her speech at the convention," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters on a conference call. Palin had been scheduled to speak to the convention on Wednesday.

Longtime Republicans said this is the first time in modern convention history that a party's convention has been suspended.

"It's unprecedented," said Republican analyst Torie Clarke, a former Pentagon spokeswoman and an ABC News contributor. "It's the right thing to do, they really can't go on as planned."

Republicans Seek to Put Katrina in the Past

Ever mindful of the Bush administration's bungling of Katrina and its aftermath, Republicans see an opportunity to contrast McCain's handling of Gustav with Bush's handing of Katrina.

"We don't want on one side of the screen on ABC there is the devastation of the hurricane and on the other side the jubilation of the convention," a senior McCain campaign official told ABC News.

Vice President Dick Cheney has also canceled his planned visit to the convention, as did Jindal -- one of the rising stars in Republican politics -- who is coordinating evacuation and relief efforts in his state. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will also be absent from the RNC festivities this week because he's wrestling with a budget problem in his state.

On Sunday, McCain and Palin visited a hurricane response center in Jackson, Miss., to learn about preparations.

The campaign hired a charter plane to take members of the Louisiana delegation home who wanted to help with the evacuation effort.

It's a delicate public relations battle for a campaign that has accused the media of paying disproportionate attention to the Democratic ticket, led by Sen. Barack Obama.

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