“Convention in Turmoil 6:11 p.m. Gustav may be threatening the Gulf Coast with devastating physical force, but it has already thrown the political world gathered here in St. Paul and Minneapolis into turmoil.
“Officials say this is the first time that a convention has been disrupted by a natural disaster. And it is shaping up as a major test of the McCain campaign as to whether it can hold this gathering together or whether it will fall apart at the seams. After an extraordinary political season and a 20-month primary, it is even possible now that John McCain, the man of the hour, won’t come at all.
“Mr. McCain, who seemed to learn the lesson of Katrina long before Gustav materialized, is doing everything he can to avoid a split-screen image between his party and devastation in the Gulf.
“And organizers here are now fully engaged in converting this convention from a partisan celebration into a wholesale relief effort. They have established information centers, are pulling their political commercials, have chartered a DC-9 to take Gulf state delegates home, and, perhaps most importantly, are portraying Mr. McCain as the commander in chief who is calling the shots — and calling for “action.”
“One question now is whether delegates and other support personnel will decide that this is a big downer and leave. The media spotlight has shifted to the Gulf Coast and is likely to remain there for several days. There won’t be much chance for partisan showmanship, and they may decide they can just as easily write their checks for emergency aid from home.
“The organizers are trying to put the best face on things but they are also lowering expectations. Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s top aide, urged those who are scheduled to speak to stay, even as he couldn’t promise that they would get to speak.
“At the same time, Mr. Obama is not ceding the roll of commander to Mr. McCain. He has just spoken with Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security. He also spoke with Louisiana officials and has conducted phone interviews with radio and television stations in New Orleans and encouraged residents to heed the calls to evacuate.
At this point, Mr. Obama is still keeping his schedule, with an event planned in Michigan on Monday. And Joseph R. Biden Jr. is still planning on appearances in Pittsburgh and Scranton.”