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.