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Hurricane Gustav and the Republican Convention

Hurricane Gustav is barreling down on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who has dubbed this “the mother of all storms,” has once again ordered the evacuation of New Orleans.  Aside from the obvious humanitarian and logistical issues, this is also a huge wild card going into the GOP convention.

President Bush is unlikely to make it to the Republican National Convention, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) may deliver his acceptance speech via satellite because of the historically huge hurricane threatening New Orleans, top officials said.

[...]

Officials insisted that the convention, scheduled to open here on Monday, will go on — albeit in a more limited and sedate form — even if Hurricane Gustav stays on its projected path. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday after federal officials said Gustav could grow to a catastrophic Category 5 and hit Monday afternoon somewhere between eastern Texas and western Mississippi.

McCain made plans to travel to a threatened area of the Gulf Coast on Sunday, accompanied by his wife, Cindy, and running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. They planned to meet Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) in Jackson, Miss., aides said. McCain was scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech Thursday but now may do so from the devastation zone if the storm hits the U.S. coast with the ferocity feared by forecasters.

[...]

Officials of the convention, the Republican Party, the White House and the McCain campaign were all scrambling this weekend to rewrite more than a year of planning for what they had hoped would be a joyful four days starting Monday.

McCain told Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday” in an interview taped for broadcast Sunday that the convention could be rescheduled. “It just 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,” McCain said. “So we’re monitoring it from day to day, and I’m saying a few prayers, too.”

Realistically, the convention can’t be rescheduled. Or, at least, they’re not going to be able to hold anything like the massive, organized convention they otherwise would have between now and the election. It’s just not logistically possible: Even if they could get a space for it, getting enough hotel rooms, booking that many airplane flights, getting the network coverage set up, getting food catered, and so forth for something on that scale in short order is next to impossible.

Beyond that, one wonders what the impact is on campaign finance law.  As I understand it, the end of the conventions marks the legal start of the general election season.  If the convention were to be postponed, would it also extend the primary season fundraising and spending period?

On the other hand, if they go on with the show, but in a more somber and low key manner, what impact does that have on the race?  Does it reduce McCain’s expected bounce?   Or does delivering a speech by satellite from a disaster area make McCain look more “presidential”?

There are also the optics.  This has already brought back the specter of what was perceived as the poor response of the Bush administration to Hurricane Katrina.  Does this redouble that perception?  Or does another shot at “doing it right” help erase it?

Regardless, this highlights a point that all of us at OTB have been making for months:  External events totally outside the control of the two campaigns will have a tremendous bearing on what happens on Election Day.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. James says:

    What’s with McCain elbowing in to cynically exploit every scene of human disaster – the Iowa floods, the Georgia-Russia clash, and now hurricane Gustav. He was asked to stay away from the flood zone and went for his photo-ops anyway. Won’t the good people of Mississippi have more important work to do than accommodating a cynical, exploitative political speech in their midst?

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  2. whats a storm gone do,
    Don’t matter because sarah got a gun
    LOL

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  3. JBJB says:

    I don’t think its going to be big issue. Unlike Katrina, the Governor on the ground seems to know what he is doing, and you would hope that the mayor has finally figured it out. And we already know Mississippi, Florida, and Texas can deal.

    If there is lot of damage to the oil and nat gas rigs, the storm might present a great opportunity to talk about diversifying our domestic energy supply – say from a resource rich state in the great Northwest that is hurricane free. The only thing standing between us and a more diversified domestic energy supply is the US congress (9% approval rating). I wonder if we can find a politician who actually understands this issue and is willing to go to DC and discuss it?

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  4. just me says:

    I have to say the interviews I have seen with Jindal show why he is an up and comer in the party. Granted he had one huge disaster at the governorship level to learn what not to do in a crisis, but he seems so organized and in the know.

    I just hope the residents heed the mandatory evacuation orders and get out.

    As for the convention-the GOP is in a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation. I think going low key is the best answer-I can just see the ads from the Obama camp now using the party atmosphere to indict McCain as lacking compassion-granted the Obama camp has to deal with their party officials laughing about the hurricane hitting New Orleans during the conventions, so that route may not be wise.

    It is kind of hard to justify a big party though, when people may be losing their homes due to flooding and wind damage.

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  5. Bithead says:

    Regardless, this highlights a point that all of us at OTB have been making for months: External events totally outside the control of the two campaigns will have a tremendous bearing on what happens on Election Day.

    Yes, and do not think for a second the Democrats don’t think for a second the Democrats don’t know it. Example” here assuming the server isn’t down from the load:

    Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Don Fowler, on an airplane back to South Carolina, is caught laughing that Hurricane Gustav is going to hit New Orleans at the start of the GOP Convention and therefore God must be with the Democrats.

    “Everything is cool,” he tells Congressman John Spratt (D-SC), seated next to him. They both laugh it up.

    A RedState contributor just happened to be behind them and caught it all on tape.

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  6. Davebo says:

    This has already brought back the specter of what was perceived as the poor response of the Bush administration to Hurricane Katrina.

    Perceived? I gotta tell you I have a relative who’s a fairly high up official in FEMA and it wasn’t a matter of perception to him.

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  7. Steve Plunk says:

    To some it seems McCain can’t do anything right or for that matter Republicans. Don’t go to the Gulf and you are insensitive, go to the Gulf and you’re a political opportunist.

    Like others have pointed out the biggest failures during Katrina were the responsibility of state and local officials. Blaming it all on FEMA and Bush is wrong.

    Let’s see how Jindal handles this. My expectation is to see a competent leader who hopes for the best but prepares for the worst without expecting others to do the heavy lifting.

    The convention should go on as a somber affair, more businesslike than the Dems. It’s not only more respectful that way but probably more productive and more admirable to the American people.

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  8. anjin-san says:

    “It just 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,”

    What was McCain doing when Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans? Oh yea, partying with Bush…

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  9. [...] Gustav scrambles the convention, James Joyner raise some good questions: Realistically, the convention can’t be rescheduled. Or, at least, they’re not going to be able [...]

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  10. sam says:

    But Bit, I thought Dobson had this arranged otherwise.

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  11. Anderson says:

    The RNC stuck with their “wide-stanced elephant” logo?

    Brother, I would *not* want to be the year 2008 in that picture.

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  12. PD Shaw says:

    Watching the coverage, I’m reminded of the Chicago blizzard of ’79. The failure to remove the snow that year led to the defeat of the mayor and the (temporary) end of the machine. Ever since then Chicago’s had great snow removal service; it’s the measure of success.

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  13. anjin-san says:

    To some it seems McCain can’t do anything right or for that matter Republicans. Don’t go to the Gulf and you are insensitive, go to the Gulf and you’re a political opportunist.

    Sort of like when McCain attacked Obama for not visiting wounded troops in Europe, when all the while he had another attack ad in the can to use if Obama had visited them…

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  14. Floyd says:

    Anderson;
    They photoshopped out the jackass it was written on!
    How else do you think they produced that freak logo for that bastard organization named…
    “Divided we fail.com”??

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  15. Michael says:

    Blaming it all on FEMA and Bush is wrong.

    But surely blaming it all on the mayor and governor is just as wrong. Perhaps we can be bi-partisan on this and just blame everybody involved?

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  16. G.A.Phillips says:

    But surely blaming it all on the mayor and governor is just as wrong. Perhaps we can be bi-partisan on this and just blame everybody involved?

    Lets blame it on the dumb ass people who were told to leave 5 days before the storm hit and dint.

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  17. Michael says:

    Lets blame it on the dumb ass people who were told to leave 5 days before the storm hit and dint.

    Well yes, obviously a portion of the blame falls on the victims themselves, simply for allowing themselves to remain in a situation where it was likely they would become victims.

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