By Mary Anne Ostrom and Lisa Vorderbrueggen | Bay Area News Group | San Jose Mercury-News
Click photos to enlarge
Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin delivers her speech as Republican... ( Kiichiro Sato )
31 August 2008 -- BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - The Republicans are heading into a national political convention without a script.
Will the convention be overshadowed and even canceled because Hurricane Gustav is barreling down on the Gulf Coast? If it goes on, will Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators stay cooped up in Sacramento or skip it?
A party still in surprise mode over the Sarah Palin pick now faces the prospect of a major natural disaster, spoiling a convention 18 months in the making.
Saturday evening, John McCain suggested it would be insensitive to hold the quadrennial event if the hurricane, which is being compared with Hurricane Katrina of three years ago, continues on its destructive path.
He told Fox News in a taped interview for Sunday morning, "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."
California officials and delegates arriving at the state's official delegate hotel Saturday afternoon said there was not much to do except wait for word from convention officials.
"We can't control an act of God," said Rosario Marin, former U.S. treasurer under Bush who serves as Schwarzenegger's housing secretary.
The California delegates already in Minnesota headed out Saturday evening for a Tiki Party, complete with a roasted pig and boat rides.
Hector Barajas, spokesman for the California GOP, said Saturday that national convention officials told him that after 18 months of planning they hoped the convention gavel would still begin Monday. Even if it does, it's unclear if any of the featured speakers, including President Bush, will go on.
The White House is carefully tracking the storm. The hurricane is predicted to hit the Gulf Coast late Monday, just as Bush is scheduled to give his final address as president to a GOP convention.
Privately, Republicans are wringing their hands. They want to avoid happy convention scenes as mandatory evacuations were beginning Saturday night. More than 1 million people already have been told to move away from the Gulf Coast.
Scenes of damage from Hurricane Katrina already have been playing on television marking the deadly storm's third anniversary, an unhappy reminder of the Bush administration's handling of the disaster response.
There are media reports that the convention officials and McCain officials could change the emphasis on Monday's planned schedule, and instead focus on an effort to raise money for storm-stricken areas. The original Monday schedule calls for Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Schwarzenegger to speak.
But budget negotiations in Sacramento are not faring well either.
Saturday afternoon, Schwarzenegger issued a statement calling a budget proposal by legislators in his own party "not fiscally responsible." Spokesman Aaron McLear called the negotiations "a fluid process" and said Schwarzenegger is sticking to his vow: no budget, no convention. That also probably means several legislators who serve as delegates and State Sen. Abel Maldonado R-San Luis Obispo, who is scheduled to speak Wednesday, will be delayed, if they make the convention at all.
Although the approaching storm was dampening some spirits, the buzz still continued around Palin, McCain's vice-presidential pick.
"When we heard it was Sarah Palin, we cheered and clapped until it hurt," said McCain delegate Jill Buck of Pleasanton, who heard the news at a GOP Rules Committee meeting in St. Paul. "She got a standing ovation and she wasn't even here."