Gustav Crashing Party: McCain, GOP Say Hurricane May Slam Convention

McCains keep "close eye" on Gustav, but convention still likely in some form.

Aug. 30, 2008 — -- With Hurricane Gustav bearing down on the Gulf Coast, Republican officials -- including presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy -- are suggesting that this week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., may get scaled back or even suspended.

"It wouldn't be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster," Sen. McCain told Fox News' Chris Wallace in an interview that will air Sunday morning.

Cindy McCain told ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" in another interview to air Sunday that she and her husband are leaving all options on the table for restructuring the convention.

"We're keeping a very close eye on what this hurricane is doing," she said. "If it looks like it's going to hit, we will, obviously, drastically change our plans.

"This is not a time to celebrate."

However, a Republican convention official told ABC News today that the Republican National Convention Committee is "still moving forward with opening the convention on Monday" as planned.

The official noted that there is official business that is required to happen at the convention, like the actual nomination of John McCain and the platform ratification -- but added contingency plans are being considered regarding delegation travel and the program of speakers. Both Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are scheduled to speak at the convention.

"Like all Americans, our prayers are with those who will be affected by Hurricane Gustav," 2008 Republican National Convention president and CEO Maria Cino said in a written statement. "We continue to closely monitor the movement of the storm and are considering necessary contingencies.

"We are in communication with the Gulf state governors to make sure the convention is taking all the appropriate steps as the hurricane progresses," the statement added. "The safety of our affected delegations is our first priority and preparing for Gustav comes before anything else."

The Republican National Convention has set up a committee in Saint Paul to monitor Hurricane Gustav and evaluate its impact on the convention schedule. The committee will also work to make sure delegates from the affected states have information about what is going on back at home and can get assistance if necessary.

The committee is led by the Republican state party chairs from Louisina, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida and also includes McCain campaign officials. The committee is meeting twice daily and members are receiving hourly updates on Hurricane Gustav.

By and large, the delegates from the states threatened by Gustav are still coming to Saint Paul for the convention.

Some elected officials, including Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, will not be attending the convention as of today but party officials said their plans could change depending on the path of the hurricane.

Party officials and convention officials are all well aware of how it may look if the convention goes on while the storm hits the Gulf Coast and are concerned about the convention striking the right tone.

But several party officials from Gulf Coast states told ABC News that it is also important for the convention to happen so the Republican Party can show the differences between John McCain and Barack Obama.

"It would be a disservice to the American people if they cannot see our convention too," Mississippi Republican Party co-chair Jeanne Luckey told ABC News.

Luckey lost her home to Hurricane Katrina and is concerned about Hurricane Gustav but she also said that the convention should go on, just with a change in tone to reflect what is happening in the Gulf Coast region.

As of early Saturday evening, Gustav was a Category 4 storm packing 150 mile-per-hour winds, and it appeared to be approaching Category 5 strength, the maximum ranking for hurricane intensity.

The storm was swirling northward near Cuba and was projected to make landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast on Monday or Tuesday. It already was blamed in the deaths of dozens of people.

John McCain told Wallace that he has been in touch with the governors of the Gulf Coast states and that his campaign would continue to monitor the storm.

"I'm afraid, Chris, that we may have to look at that situation and we'll try and monitor it. I've been talking to Govs. Jindal, Barbour [of Mississippi], Riley [of Alabama] and Crist; I've been talking to all of them," McCain said. "So we're monitoring it from day to day, and I'm saying a few prayers too."

Earlier, at a breakfast with their wives, Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential ticket, also voiced concern after Hurricane Gustav was upgraded to a Category 3 storm.

"We are deeply concerned," Obama said at the Yankee Kitchen family restaurant in Boardman, Ohio. "I've instructed my Senate staff to monitor the situation closely, [to] make sure we've contacted both FEMA but also private relief organizations just to make sure that whatever happens people are prepared."

Obama said that he and Biden would continue to monitor the storm and would keep Louisiana residents in their minds.

"Obviously, we're going to be each day seeing what happens and we're praying for New Orleans, but we want to make sure that people are making all the necessary precautions," Obama said.

Obama added that he hoped people had learned from Hurricane Katrina that evacuation is key.

"This time they're not taking any chances, so say a prayer," Biden said, adding that his wife Jill "went down there for a week after when the hurricane hit last time."

ABC News' David Wright, Ron Claiborne and Ann Compton contributed to this report.

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