GOP Convention Opens Quietly; Palin VP Choice is Talk of the Town

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(St. Paul, Minnesota)

Low key does not even begin to describe the Republican National Convention which kicks off today in St. Paul. With Hurricane Gustav stealing the convention’s thunder (not to mention much of the media attention), there are still a lot of people talking politics here.

With many of the major speeches now cancelled (including President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger), people are continuing to talk about John McCain’s surprise running mate pick, Gov. Sarah Palin, (D-AK).

Longtime California Democratic Committeeman Bob Mulholland was shocked. “We ought to have a Vice-president who is ready to be President, rather than making a political decision, or one about gender,” Mulholland said. He believes the notion of McCain trying to pick up disgruntled female voters from Hillary Clinton’s campaign, is cynical at best.

The problem for the Democrats may be that Palin’s nomination catches on. If she only captures ten percent of Hillary Clinton’s supporters, that’s almost two million votes, and enough to swing a close election. So far Palin has avoided the “deer in the headlights” persona that plagued Dan Quayle in 1988, even though Quayle was elected. Palin is a telegenic former TV sportscaster, who is not a wallflower in front of the camera. As a blue-collar mother of five, she could have wide appeal in Midwest swing states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio.

Other states where the polling is extremely close could be swayed as well. Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer addressed the Palin selection before his state’s large convention delegation. “Was she not a great pick ladies and gentleman?” The room erupted in thunderous applause.

Obviously Palin is still an unknown quantity. Democrats like Bob Mulholland of California have tried to link her to GOP corruption scandals in Alaska involving Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. “They are her friends,” he said.

The problem is, that does not appear to be true! Palin has already attacked many of those same Republicans. She rejected Steven’s pork-barrel “bridge to nowhere”; she recruited another Republican to take on Young in the Congressional primary; and she ran against incumbent Republican Governor Frank Murkowski (who appointed his own daughter to the U.S. Senate in a blatant act of nepotism), and Palin knocked the governor from office. That’s why she has appeal as a maverick, and outsider and a reformer. So, look out!

Much of her fate may lie with the Vice-presidential debate in St. Louis on October 2 where she’ll face off against 36 year senate veteran Joe Biden, an expert on foreign policy. If she falters badly in that forum, her chances may ride out to sea like a fading hurricane. If she succeeds, she may hit the Democrats with the force of Gustav.

I’ll have updates throughout the days ahead. Check in at

Gathering Storm Casts Cloud Over Republican Gathering

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(Bloomington, Minnesota)

Mother Nature is running the show in St. Paul, even while stirring up the Gulf of Mexico a thousand miles away. With the threat of Hurricane Gustav hitting the Gulf Coast, perhaps at New Orleans, there is not much of a mood here to party.

The Florida delegation held a late afternoon briefing to let folks know that many events have been canceled. The convention will go on “but this storm is far worse. If things hold up it could be a category 4 or 5….people could die from this hurricane. Some already have. This storm can have dramatic impact on people’s lives,” said Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp.

For example, the convention will only meet from 3:30 to 5:30 central time on Monday’s opening day. Delegates will approve the rules and adopt the platform. There will be no speeches; there will be no confetti and fanfare.

A couple of big political fundraisers will now raise money for hurricane relief instead. Money will go to other American Red Cross and other charities. Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer said nominee John McCain requested the toned down convention. “The senator has rightfully shown decisive leadership in doing the right thing. The senator has asked that the convention be tempered a bit. We set aside partisan politicians and we join with people in those states.”

Three years after the botched response by President Bush, then Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, it appears that public officials on both sides of the aisle want to get it right this time. Barack Obama’s campaign is pledging its massive internet fundraising operation to help raise money for disaster relief instead. All of this, and the storm might not even make landfall until Tuesday.

At the California delegation office in Minneapolis, the concern was just as heightened. California GOP Media Director Charles Moran said, “We canceled three hours of speeches,” for the Monday session. “Floor sessions start at 3 pm. It’s going to be two hours max.” Moran says a California corporate party scheduled for Tuesday will now raise money for hurricane victims.

President Bush and Vice-president Cheney are no longer coming to the Twin Cities. First Lady Laura Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have also canceled. Obviously the five Gulf Coast governors have canceled, too.

For its part, the Florida delegation was going to have a Congressional breakfast tomorrow. Now it has changed to a multi-faith prayer breakfast, hosting several clergy members. “We are going to be standing ready to help our fellow man. We aren’t Republicans or Democrats,” said Lt. Gov. Kottkamp. “Keep everyone who could be impacted by this storm in your thoughts and prayers.”

Sometimes there is something bigger in America than politics. This is one of those times.

I’ll have more from St. Paul throughout the week, as we keep an eye on the GOP and Gustav, too.

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