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RNC Looks to Get Back on Track

September 2, 2008

(AP) - Republicans swung their convention back on a political track Tuesday after a pause for Hurricane Gustav, giving President Bush a prime-time speaking slot to promote John McCain's candidacy for the White House. Former Democrat Joe Lieberman and TV star and former Sen. Fred Thompson also got speaking roles.

The president will address the convention by satellite from the
White House.

There was a flurry of last-minute changes as Republicans tried to patch together a new schedule for the three remaining days of their convention. Monday's opening session was abbreviated and stripped of sharp political rhetoric as the nation kept its focus on Gustav, once seen as a major threat to the Gulf Coast. It landed with a blow that was less devastating than feared, allowing the GOP to lift the McCain-imposed ban on partisanship.

Bush had been in line to speak to the convention in person Monday night but instead went to Texas to be with disaster workers as Gustav threatened the Gulf. Some Republicans had breathed a sigh of relief to have the unpopular president out of the way and off the television screens. But Bush still was guaranteed a warm welcome from fellow Republicans in the convention hall.

The White House was so concerned about intruding on McCain's show that aides would neither confirm nor even discuss the ongoing planning for what was widely known to be happening: the speech to delegates by the president on Tuesday night. Bush aides were hypersensitive about any move that might offend McCain or be seen as trumping his show - a byproduct of McCain's delicate effort to distance himself from the president.

Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee, was one of McCain's rivals for the Republican nomination. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, was the Democrats' vice presidential candidate in 2000 and now is a McCain supporter. Republicans say the two will talk about McCain's life and their friendship with him.

The revamped schedule suggested that convention planners were easing back into partisan politics with an appeal to independent-minded voters. Thompson is known by most voters for his portrayal of a gruff district attorney on NBC's "Law & Order."

It was unclear whether Thompson had replaced former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the convention keynoter and, if so, why. Convention planners said Giuliani would address the gathering in prime-time Wednesday or Thursday, though they did not know whether he would remain the keynote speaker as planned.

Hamstrung by Gustav and distracted by the revelation that McCain running mate Sarah Palin's unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, Republicans were trying to get back on track Tuesday.

Lieberman, who left the Democratic Party after losing a Senate primary, has angered many Democrats by criticizing their nominee, Barack Obama.

"I'm not going to spend any time tonight attacking Sen. Obama," Lieberman told CNN, but he added that he would explain "why I am an independent Democrat voting for Sen. McCain."

The convention seeks to reintroduce Americans to McCain and provide a high-profile introduction for Palin. The governor of Alaska for nearly two years, she is little-known outside of her state.

So far, Palin has not conducted a formal news conference or taken questions from reporters, and no such sessions were scheduled Tuesday. Her only statement Monday disclosed that her daughter Bristol was pregnant and planned to marry the baby's father.

That news was followed by the announcement that a private lawyer had been hired to represent Palin in a state investigation into the dismissal of the state's public safety commissioner.

The man who led McCain's search for a vice-presidential nominee said he thought all the possible red flags unearthed during the background check had now been made public.

Under the weight of Gustav, speeches at the convention on Monday were light on red-meat rhetoric and heavy with appeals for donations to victims of the Gulf Coast storm, which was the main message in brief remarks from Laura Bush and her would-be successor, Cindy McCain.

"This is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats," said Cindy McCain.

Added the first lady, "Our first priority for today and in the coming days is to ensure the safety and well-being of those living in the Gulf Coast region."

Obama also appealed to his supporters, asking them in a mass e-mail and text message to donate to the Red Cross. His schedule for the rest of the week was up in the air as he returned to Chicago headquarters to monitor the storm's aftermath.

Outside the Xcel Energy Center where the convention officially began, police contended with thousands of protesters, some of whom attacked a group of Connecticut delegates.

Others smashed cars, punctured tires and threw bottles, while many marched peacefully in a gathering that was initially conceived as an anti-war demonstration. Police arrested a few protesters for lighting a trash container on fire and pushing it into a police car.


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