Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Convention Watch: RNC Attendance Gap

Even before Hurricane Gustav charged onto the horizon, many Republican leaders had already decided to skip their party’s convention. But the threat posed to the Gulf Coast resulted in a decision to truncate the event’s first day as more people dropped out and the news media turned its attention to the storm.

One of Monday’s headliners, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, made it known early that he might not attend due to his state’s budget crisis. Facing a weather disaster, governors from the region, including Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, decided to stay home state to deal with Gustav. President Bush and Vice President Cheney also cancelled their appearances.

Still, at least ten incumbent senators, including Elizabeth Dole, Gordon Smith, Susan Collins, Pat Roberts, John E. Sununu, Chuck Hagel and Richard Jugar, decided not to attend before the weather turned bad. Of these, Hagel and Lugar have expressed some sympathy for Barack Obama’s campaign. The party argues that most of the absentee senators are involved in tight election battles. But that suggests that too close an association with the Republican Party won’t help them with voters. Other no shows include Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and Idaho Sen. Larry Craig. Aides to Stevens, who is awaiting trial on federal charges stemming from a corruption scandal, say he's also too busy campaigning, while Craig, who pleaded guilty in a sex scandal, will soon be an ex-senator.

Over the weekend the three TV network anchors headed to the hurricane zone. NBC's Brian Williams and ABC's Charles Gibson flew to New Orleans from New York on Sunday, and CBS' Katie Couric jetted from her post in St. Paul. Fox News' Shepard Smith also traveled to the region. CNN's Anderson Cooper was already there, arriving earlier to cover the third anniversary of Katrina.

Both John McCain and Barack Obama vowed to avoid partisan talk and organize their supporters to help with relief efforts along the Gulf Coast. But Tuesday brought the announcement that the convention will resume with speeches by, among others, Joe Lieberman and Fred Thompson, plus remarks via satellite by Bush. The theme is “Who is John McCain?” but Obama and the Democrats are likely to be mentioned.

For more stories, go to Convention Watch, a guide to highlights, protests, and convention history. For Pacifica Radio coverage, go to Election 411.org or KPFA’s Live Coverage.

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