By ELI SEGALL
ST. PAUL, Minn. (Aug. 31, 2008) - It would be a "logistical nightmare" to further curtail the Republican National Convention as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast, Maryland's GOP chairman said Sunday.
James Pelura III said he agreed with the decision by Sen. John McCain's campaign to scale back events Monday, the convention's opening day. But Pelura also said that if the convention were extended a few days—something he doubts would happen—it would throw a wrench into delegates' travel and hotel plans.
"Think about it: How can you do that?" said Pelura, a Davidsonville veterinarian. "They could potentially shorten it, but they couldn't push it back."
Nearly 5,000 delegates are in the Minnesota state capital to nominate McCain as the Republican presidential candidate. His campaign announced Sunday that it will pay for a jet to fly Gulf state delegates home.
Despite the national party's cutbacks, Pelura said the state's 71-member delegation, which arrived Sunday, will keep to its schedule this week. Planned events include a 5 p.m. happy hour and late-night party each night of the four-day convention, and a three-hour boat tour of the Mississippi River Thursday afternoon.
Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, said at a packed news conference Sunday that the convention would begin at 3 p.m. Monday, as scheduled. However, he said, events will be reduced to meetings that satisfy party bylaws and allow the convention to proceed with nominating its presidential ticket.
Those events include various committee meetings and fielding a quorum of delegates to nominate the president and vice-president.
Davis, standing before roughly 300 reporters and more than two dozen cameramen, would not confirm whether McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, would come to St. Paul to accept their nominations in person.
"Tomorrow's program will be business only and refrain from political rhetoric" typical of an opening day, Davis said. The remainder of the schedule will be decided day-to-day, he added; the convention is scheduled to end Sept. 4.
Gustav, slated to strike the U.S. Monday afternoon, has already slammed several Caribbean countries, killing about 80 people as of Saturday. According to AccuWeather.com, Gustav will hit the American mainland as Category 3, the same strength as Hurricane Katrina when that storm pummeled the region beginning on Aug. 29, 2005, killing more than 1,500 people.
More than 1 million people have already fled the Gulf region, and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Saturday ordered a phased evacuation of the city, warning residents who remained that they will not be offered emergency services, according to news reports.
Maryland GOP officials emphasized that the top priority now is the safety of Gulf Coast residents, not the party's convention.
"My travel plans are not that important compared to if a hurricane hit New Orleans again," said Michael P. Cronin, a North Potomac resident and convention delegate.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.