BLOOMINGTON, MINN. — As the political spotlight shifts to the upcoming Republican convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, GOP leaders are closely monitoring the movements of Tropical Storm Gustav, which is approaching hurricane strength as it heads toward the Gulf Coast.
Party officials are discussing the possibility of postponing convention proceedings if the threat to New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas grows. If there is serious damage in the Gulf Coast, images of Republicans partying in Minneapolis-St. Paul could be an embarrassing reminder of the Bush administration's delayed response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.
Forecasters predicted that the storm could come ashore Tuesday morning as a Category 3 hurricane, with winds in the 113- to 130-mph range. That would be in the middle of the Republican convention, which runs from Monday through Thursday.
There is perhaps no issue over which McCain has been more critical of the Bush administration than its handling of the 2005 storm, which the Arizona Republican has called "disgraceful."
In New Orleans in April, McCain distanced himself from President Bush, telling an audience in the city's Lower 9th Ward: "Never again will a disaster of this nature be handled in the terrible and disgraceful way it's been handled."
Asked about a possible postponement, Tucker Bounds, a McCain spokesman, said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee "has always taken into consideration national emergencies. . . . We are monitoring the situation very closely."
A damaging hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico also could highlight the risk of offshore drilling in the area at a time when McCain is championing the practice.
In Washington, Bush -- scheduled to speak at the Republican convention Monday -- was receiving what White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said were "regular updates" about the storm's progress.
Perino said it was "too premature to say" whether Bush would alter his plan to speak to the convention.
Matt Burns, communications director for the Republican National Convention, emphasized that officials have not made any changes in their plans related to Gustav.
"At this juncture we are moving ahead with the planning of our convention, and there have been no changes to our schedule of events. We obviously share the concerns of many Americans as we watch the developments," Burns said.
Times staff writer James Gerstenzang contributed to this report.