Slater: Without speeches, first day of GOP convention wasn't much to sexe
09:41 PM CDT on Monday, September 1, 2008
ST. PAUL, Minn. — There wasn't much party in the Grand Old Party on Monday.
The president was supposed to be here. And the vice president. And a raucous floor full of delegates in funny hats celebrating the virtues of John McCain and denouncing the empty celebrity of Barack Obama.
But nothing was happening, nothing at all, just delegates wandering about the convention floor, chatting with each other as if the GOP's first day was a giant Baptist kaffeeklatsch.
There were no red-meat speeches, just some official business and a decided focus on something convention planners couldn't have planned for a month ago: hurricane relief.
"Hey, our neighbors are getting washed away," Houston delegate Norm Adams said of Gustav. "You can't have an image of us dancing and partying and them down there drowning."
Delegates seemed resolved that the first-day schedule of speakers had been scratched.
"It's OK," said Sharon Johnson of Denver. "Some of these speakers were snoozers."
No one could remember anything quite like Monday's subdued opening day of a party's national convention.
The session had barely been called to order when the chairman announced an hour-long break for the rules and platform committees to meet somewhere. Delegates just wandered the red carpet of the convention floor and made the best of things.
"We're not here for a rock show," shrugged Sarah Minear of Morgantown, W.Va.
Near the Texas stanchion, a French TV crew interviewed a couple of delegates, who instinctively expressed admiration for French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"Sarkozy!" San Antonio delegate Rene Diaz said in a vaguely French accent, grinning at the camera and giving a thumbs-up sign.
These conventions are media events that candidates hope to use to tell their story. But the story on this day was the faraway storm.
Three years ago, the Republican administration was accused of bungling the response when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Now, Gustav had renewed focus on one of the worst failings of the Bush presidency.
But Republicans on Monday were sending a different signal.
That's not to say there weren't politically festive touches.
The Hawaii sign was draped with leis and wrapped in tropical flowers. A delegate in a grey elephant hat with floppy ears and protruding trunk posed for pictures.
And in the Colorado section, one ardent backer Sarah Palin, the vice presidential pick, wore a leopard hat festooned with the button: "Maniacal, foaming-at-the-mouth feverishly fervent Palin Nut."
But the message Monday was all about the hurricane, and how the Republican president and the Republican nominee and the five Gulf State governors – Republicans all – had responded aggressively.
Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he wasn't worried the GOP had lost a full day.
"We're pushing a message right now," Mr. Dewhurst said, looking up at the media boxes circling the convention floor.
"The message: We're not all about politics," he said. "We're about people."
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