August 31, 2008
GOP Readies for Convention
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Last week in Denver, Republican presidential candidate John McCain was portrayed as a man who wants to give tax breaks to the oil companies, doesn't know how many houses he owns, and is a clone of President George W. Bush.
This week in St. Paul, Minn., he'll be someone who always puts country over party, will cut wasteful government spending and has the backbone and the experience necessary to defend the nation and lead it through troubled times.
Now, it's the Republicans' turn.
The GOP is gathering for its national convention at the Xcel Energy Center, there to nominate McCain and his new running mate, Sarah Palin. Proceedings are to begin tomorrow afternoon, although the schedule might be changed in deference to Hurricane Gustav, which was headed for the Gulf Coast.
"You know, it 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 told Fox News yesterday, "so we're monitoring it day by day."
The party will try to make up whatever ground it lost over the last few days as the result of a Democratic convention that was widely viewed as a success.
Before the Palin selection, the Republican gathering had a feeling of anticlimax about it. McCain effectively wrapped up his party's nomination in February. There was no controversy in the offing unless McCain picked a running mate who favored abortion rights, which he didn't.
Now there is an element of mystery about how Palin will perform in the national spotlight.
If questions of unity hung over the Democrats at their convention, the Republicans have to deal with what has come to be known as the "enthusiasm gap."
Party leaders and loyalists across the country are disheartened by the fundamentals of this election year: the weak economy, the mortgage crisis, the high cost of energy, the unpopularity of the war in Iraq and Bush's low approval ratings.
Though Democratic nominee Barack Obama has been leading McCain by an average of only 4 points in the polls, party strategists fear that the underlying situation for McCain and other Republican candidates may be worse than that.
To get Republicans feeling better about their prospects, the candidate has planned a gathering that will bring together speakers who will address his "vision for reforming our government, building prosperity and ensuring peace for future generations," said Jill Hazelbaker, his communications director.
Enthusiasm matters. While an eager vote counts just as much as a reluctant one, the Democrats' advantage on this score, should it continue, is likely to give them an advantage in volunteers, finances and turnout.
"We have a huge edge in this regard," said David Plouffe, Obama's national campaign manager. "Enthusiasm is why Bush won the 2004 election over John Kerry."
McCain's strategists are hoping that the addition of Palin - who is relatively young, new to the national scene and popular with social conservatives - will boost the party's spirits heading into the final nine weeks of the campaign.
Gustav, though, could gum up the works, at least a little.
The Republicans, aware that the storm could dredge up memories of the inadequate federal response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago, do not want to be seen partying while residents of the Gulf region suffer. McCain has been highly critical of the Bush administration's handling of Katrina.
So it's possible that tomorrow's opening session, which is to feature a tribute to the president's eight years in office, might not take place as scheduled. Bush, who would not want to be accused of taking Gustav lightly, might stay away altogether.
Assuming all goes as planned, tomorrow's opening session will include speeches by the president, Vice President Dick Cheney, Laura Bush, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.
Originally published by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
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