ST. PAUL — The Republican National Convention convened Monday, but the short official session was all business. Maine delegates attending the convention said they are in hopes that if Hurricane Gustav passes without loss of life or significant damage the convention can return to its normal schedule later this week.
State Sen. Kevin Raye said, “It doesn’t quite have the same festive atmosphere that some of us are used to. We’re hoping if the damage isn’t too severe we can take it up a notch.”
Raye is attending the convention with his wife, Karen Raye, who is also a delegate and a national committeewoman. Both are local directors of Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign.
Although Karen Raye said the focus was on business Monday, “it’s still fun to see people from around the country and to be here.”
At the delegation breakfast Monday, the Rayes and other members of the delegation were surprised by the appearance of Republican political strategist Karl Rove.
Rove spoke to the delegation about McCain, who is expected to accept his party’s nomination here on Thursday.
Rove also addressed the party’s chances in New England in the November election and said he thinks McCain is a particularly appealing candidate for the region.
He said McCain has done well in places like Maine because of his fiscally responsible, outsider image.
Kevin Raye agreed, calling McCain “the kind of independent, maverick, public official that will be attractive to Maine. I think the race will be very competitive.”
“Our problems in the Northeast have not come about in a short period of time and they are not going to be solved in a short period of time,” Rove said in a reference to the decline in Republican strength and representation in Congress in the region.
“The first thing is reelect your senator this year,” he said in a reference to Sen. Susan Collins who is running for a third term to the Senate and is being challenged by Rep. Tom Allen.
Collins decided to skip the convention and stay home to campaign, a decision that was applauded by Karen Raye. “I’m pleased that she’s in Maine right now. It’s good that she’s on the ground … I think she made the right decision.”
In addition to the Senate race, Karen Raye said she believes the races for the state’s two congressional seats also will be competitive.
The regular business handled during the convention’s few hours in session included adoption of the convention rules that formally approved the New Hampshire Republican primary as the first in the nation. The motion was approved by voice vote without comment.
First lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain, spoke briefly to convention delegates just before the session adjourned for the day.
Mrs. Bush said her husband, President Bush, couldn’t attend because his first priority was ensuring the safety of those living in the Gulf Coast region.
Republican governors from the states of Texas, Florida, Mississippi and Alabama remained in their home states to oversee evacuation and other hurricane-related issues and taped video messages that were played for the delegates.
“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,” Mrs. Bush told the delegates.
Mrs. McCain echoed the remarks of her husband on the hurricane and its impact on the convention. “As John has been saying for the last several days, this is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats.”
A special area called the Hurricane Information Center has been set up on the first floor of the Xcel Energy Center where the convention is being held. Television monitors are tuned to storm coverage and telephones and computers are available for anyone who wants to communicate with friends and family in the region.
A number of the evening parties planned for the Twin Cities on Monday instead focused on making donations to the Red Cross and other relief efforts.
The convention organizers have Target, FedEx and the Red Cross to send 80,000 “comfort packages” to the Gulf Coast region. The packages will be assembled at the Minneapolis Convention Center in a staging area and will include basic necessities such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, granola bars and other prepackaged foods.
There was no word Monday evening about what the convention schedule would be on Tuesday or whether there would be speakers and a prime-time televised hour. Convention officials said they were waiting to see what happened with the hurricane.